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Fireball Munster Championship at Lough Derg Yacht Club

by Frank Miller 20 Sep 20:43 BST 18-19 September 2021
Fireball Munster Championships at Lough Derg © Joe St Leger

Josh Porter and Cara McDowell are the new Fireball Munster Champions after seven races at Lough Derg Yacht Club over the weekend. The pair showed outstanding consistency and speed over the races in a wide variety of conditions.

Their achievement is all the more impressive because they beat the rest of the 15-boat fleet in a relatively older Fireball which was totally refurbished by Porter over the last two winters. Going by the premise that Winder built FRP Fireballs remain stiff and light right throughout their lives he removed all the original gelcoat and recoated the boat in two-pack acrylic paint. The result is a twenty-something aged boat which actually looks, and obviously performs, like a brand-new boat.

The two-day event saw sailors challenged by a massive range of conditions, from quite light in the early race on the Saturday to impressive squalls on the Sunday. Race officer John Leech and his team gave the fleet a variety of courses from plain triangles to Olympic Triangles. Turnarounds were extremely impressive, especially considering that the racecourse was shared with the Mirror class competing in their Southern Championships.

Sailing conditions throughout the two days of racing were as varied as you might expect from a lake famous for its decent winds, but a lake nonetheless. For most of the races crews were in trapezing mode and at times some of the lighter teams struggled with the conditions, especially on tight spinnaker reaches.

In race one, a short triangular course in light airs, Louise McKenna and Hermine O'Keeffe got away cleanly off the line and sped away from the competition finding wind on the right side of the course and proved uncatchable by the chasing fleet. They were followed across the finish line by Ed Og Butler sailing with Ismail Inan and Josh Porter/Cara McDowell.

Race two was another triangular race in much better breeze and this was won by Porter/McDowell, with Butler Og/Inan closely behind. Race three was won by the Thompson brothers Daniel and Harry, though this fast pairing struggled somewhat to find their usual speed and consistency throughout the event. A forensic overnight rigging analysis on the Saturday identified a couple of issues which kept them off their usual pace.

Porter/McDowell won the final race on the Saturday and went into a solid overnight lead, with Butler Og/Inan lying second and Frank Miller/Ed Butler Snr lying third, just a point ahead of McKenna/O'Keeffe.

Sunday morning racing was due to start at 9.55am and race officer John Leech's early call proved correct as the fleet awoke to bright sunshine and a snappy breeze. In the autumn sunshine Lough Derg provided a stunning backdrop to the day's activities. Courses for the day were of the Olympic Triangle and races longer than the previous day in the improved breeze.

Porter/McDowell won race five in good breeze but with significant shifts and light patches, with Butler Og/Inan again close behind. Before the start of race six the sky darkened and with signs of a squall approaching rigs were altered. The squall arrived in time for the first reach forcing lighter crews to drop their kites while the heavier teams revelled in the conditions. By the time the second reach was over the squall had passed and the more skilled sailors found the best routes around the course in the somewhat shifty conditions which followed. Once again Porter/McDowell emerged on top, this time with the Thompsons in second.

The final race was especially challenging with the fleet dealing with a gentler squall and uneven wind over the course. As the breeze appeared to be softening the race was shortened to the finish line after the second leeward mark rounding at the end of the run. On that run however places changed with those opting early for the gybe to the inside winning out. Thus, Butler Og/Inan and Miller/Butler Snr winning out over previous leaders. Butler Og took that win with the Thompson brothers second and Miller/Butler Snr in third. McKenna/O'Keeffe were particularly unlucky as they had led for much of the race and their 5th place in that race effectively lost them third overall in the series.

When the scores were added up Porter/McDowell were the absolutely deserving winners on ten points with Butler Og/Inan a reasonably close second on 13 points. Miller/Butler Snr were 3rd overall of 20 points due to relatively a consistent Ent performance and four third place scores. The silver fleet trophy was won by Killaloe sailors Andrew Mullaly and David Tanner, with Mick O'Callaghan/Neil Cramer second and Paul and Moris Ter Horst third. Clodagh Nash and Moris Ter Horst won the Under-21 prizes.

Special mention should be made of transition year youth team Oscar George and Ella O'Callaghan who sailed one of the two Fireball class loan boats. The lightweight pair showed gumption and promise and did extremely well for a first outing in a Fireball which they saw for the first time three days before the event. They were awarded the Classic Prize for their efforts and the class have awarded them a loan boat to practice throughout the winter with a view to competing in the World Championships at the club from 21st to 26th August next year.

The 2021 Munster Championships proved to be a fantastic challenging event for all sailors, with a variety of conditions to test sailors of all abilities and weights. The event gave competitors a taste of what to expect for the worlds next August when some 80 Fireballs from around the world are expected to enjoy sailing in one of Ireland's most beautiful sailing destinations.

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