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Fireballs at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2023

by Frank Miller 10 Jul 17:50 BST 7-9 July 2023
Fireball winners Cara McDowell and Josh Porter at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta © Michael Chester

Fireballs enjoyed spectacular sailing at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire regatta over the last three days. Sixteen Fireballs entered the event and only injury and family commitments prevented a full turnout. Especially impressive was the number of youth teams competing and especially rewarding was to watch these teams manage very well in sometimes hair-raising conditions.

With winds occasionally reaching 30 knots the high-performance dinghy lived up to its pedigree as racers zoomed around the courses over the long weekend. In the days before the event its fair to say sailors from all fleets were watching the rather ominous forecasts and were concerned the whole event could be in jeopardy, but by the Thursday the more worrying forecasts had softened and confidence grew that a few days of great racing was on the agenda. On Thursday itself racing was cancelled for the vast majority of classes as extreme gusts swept in.

A handful of Flying Fifteens managed to get one race in but even those keelboats suffered several dinghy-style capsizes which saw crews standing on keels. Friday dawned breezy but very sailable and Fireballers sped out to the start to be greeted by an AP as the race committee settled a fairly complicated trapezoid course into position. When racing got under way the Fireballs screamed off the line in winds of around twenty knots. Jon Evans & Aidan Caulfield got to the weather mark first followed closely by Frank Miller & Ed Butler. As they roared down the run in big winds seeking the leeward marks both made the error of heading to the inner rather than the outer trapezoid gate and although they finished first and second they took a retirement giving Stephen Oram & Neil Cramer the race win.

The youngest team of David Evans & William Draper took 2nd place in that race, a fantastic achievement given that they were probably also the lightest team at the event. Josh Porter and Cara McDowell were third. This was to be their worst result of the regatta which they went on to discard. There was a wind shift after this race which led the race team to abandon the trapezoid course with it's total of eight marks and two committee boats in favour of a windward—leeward course which is much more manageable in a shifting breeze.

Given that the dinghy racing area for the event was Salthill and offshore winds were forecast for the entire event the race team set windward-leeward courses for the rest of the regatta. Having settled in Josh & Cara went on to win the next two races in similar breezes, taking the overnight lead for the event. Saturday dawned with good breezes but distinctly more shifty conditions. While it was breezy it was a tad less windy than the Friday and warmer and possibly there might have been an element of a thermal breeze playing with the offshore gradient.

This was a day when those keeping their speed up and their heads out of the boat were rewarded and once again Josh & Cara prevailed with two wins and a second while Adrian Lee & Ossian Geraghty took the win in race 5. There were several close finishes on the Friday, with a surprise shortened course at a gate catching several sailors out while providing an opening to those paying closest attention. By Saturday night it was clear that after six races and with two to go Josh & Cara had a fairly unassailable lead. Next were Adrian & Ossian with Frank & Ed Snr lying third and Jon & Aidan fourth on equal points. Two points adrift were Stephen & Neil in 5th.

Sunday dawned with initially light winds but a slightly ominous forecast showing possible thunderstorms and lightening. Sure enough, while sailors rigged the wind picked up considerably and the race office decided to postpone by an hour, allowing a squall to blow through. By the time competitors were sailing out the wind was softening and a few were caught out as race seven started bang on time and in quite light winds.

The start line was strongly pin biased but the sensible ones started at the committee boat where there was more pressure. Most headed inshore to escape the incoming tide but this approach wasn't always rewarded as there were big variations in pressure around the course. Louise McKenna & Hermine O'Keeffe led to the weather mark by taking the inshore course but on round two lost their lead by the same approach and fell to fourth, managing to get back to 2nd on the final run. Unsurprisingly at this stage Josh & Cara triumphed in boat races.

In the final race the wind had picked up somewhat and most sailors changed settings to medium. With Adrian & Ossian fairly secure in 2nd place the main battle was for the 3rd prize. Frank & Ed had a good battle with Jon & Aidan on the run, and with Stephen & Neil on the beat but ultimately made the fatal decision of losing contact with their main rivals and going offshore into what looked like better breeze only for it to fade and for the breeze inside to fill. When the final sums were done Josh & Cara took the overall, Adrian & Ossian were 2nd with Jon & Aidan 3rd. Stephen and Neil were 4th on equal points with Frank and Ed who fell to 5th overall.

It would be fair to say that for Fireballs this was one of the most successful Volvo DL Regattas in recent memory. The conditions were spectacular, providing the class with an opportunity to showcase its brilliant design and especially its fantastic and fearless young competitors.

The next event for Fireballs is the Munster Championship at Killaloe SC on the weekend of 22nd & 23rd July, shared with the 420 class. Sailors are really looking forward to a different kind of racing, most likely in more gentle breezes, at a very welcoming host club with a spanking new clubhouse and locally available food and camping.

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