12 July 2016
A smaller than usual fleet of Fireballs travelled from Dun Laoghaire and Skerries to that part of Ireland which makes the claim to being the "sunny South -East", Wexford. As the Race Officer for the weekend, Michael Conway, advised at the prize-giving, there would be many a Frostbite weekend at the club that would be less inhospitable weather-wise than the weekend we had just experienced. The warmth of the welcome and hospitality from Wexford Harbour Boat & Tennis Club can't be disputed and fortunately was in human hands, so complaining about the weather was all we could do! In truth, the various websites used by the Fireball community to get an indication of the weather were all very pessimistic in the week leading up to the event so nobody could have been under any illusion as to what we were going to get - very strong winds, drizzle, if not rain and grey skies the entire weekend. XCWeather, Windguru and Windfinder were all consistent - expect the worst. We weren't short-changed!!
The Fireball fleet was joined by the Mermaids, a class combination that we haven't enjoyed at any event that this scribe can recall and while it appeared that the Mermaids haven't been in Wexford to race for quite some time, the Fireballs were there as recently as two years ago.
At the race briefing the Race Officer advised that due to the impending forecast - for the significant wind to build as the day wore on - he wouldn't be taking the combined fleets out to sea, even though as things stood the sea area race-course was sailable. There was an audible sigh of relief as the fleet realised that trying to get under the bridge between the club and the outer sea area canted over with 18 knots blowing wasn't going to have to be the first exercise of the day. The recommendation was that the racing would take place in the inner harbour where there was enough water provided you didn't try sailing in the fringes! The Olympic course was prescribed as the course of choice.
The fleet launched in partially sheltered waters as the wind was offshore in direction at the club slipway, but the race area was shrouded in mist and as the lead boats went further offshore it became very apparent that the wind conditions were a lot more robust further out. In particular the "funnel" from Ferrycarrig was very active. A sole Fireball flew spinnaker on the way out to the start area and was very glad of the sea-room that existed to the lee of the start area to get it back down.
In these conditions it wasn't difficult to understand why the start line wasn't more vigorously contested; combinations were struggling to get onto the start line just to be competitive. Capsizing is an occupational hazard anyway but a silty/muddy bottom for masts to get stuck in was an additional, though redundant incentive not to fall over in the conditions.
Only two Fireballs managed the race though they did not sail the same configuration, the problem being that while the RO had spoken at the briefing of using the Olympic configuration, the flag flying on the committee boat was for a Windward-Leeward course. And in the mist that only lifted after the start only two yellow marks could be seen. Thus "Boat A" sailed to what it thought was a weather mark, only to find it was a gybe mark and claimed to unwind itself to sail around the right configuration of an Olympic course while "Boat B" went to what it thought was a weather mark, rounded every white mark that might have been a spreader mark, as described in the briefing, in the vicinity of the "weather mark" only to realise it was a gybe mark and stopped racing. The rest of us meantime weren't trying to distinguish between weather/gybe/spreader/yellow or white marks but rather were trying to pull masts out of the mud/silt, being towed home, or were sailing home under our own steam. Even one of the Mermaids capsized which is something I didn't think happened. Racing was curtailed and the fleet adjourned prematurely to the clubhouse to debate the merits of what was intended/described versus what had happened on the water with Boats "A" and "B" having opposing views on the fate of the episode on the water. Ultimately the race was abandoned and with more wind forecast for the Sunday, the prospect of a "non-event" raised its head.
An excellent meal was had in "The Yard" restaurant in town on Saturday evening with two wives joining the racing numbers and one helmsman leaving to take advantage of the early finish to proceedings to give attention to his "brownie-points" account. At the dinner table a new all-female Irish Fireball combination was announced with individual coaches appointed to helm and crew respectively combined with a shore based support team. This new team have declared their intention to relocate to a warm weather base for the initial phase of their training and the only clue they would give as to this "away" location is that it has a burgeoning reputation for excellent red wine!!
During Saturday night the breeze appeared to drop but the drizzle/rain feature remained - could we get racing in on Sunday? Yes, we could, but only three boats took to the water. As they sailed off, the rest of us wondered if we had made the wrong call as they seemed to be in control. That is until they had to cross the downwind end of the "Ferrycarrig funnel". Also, under binocular viewing, the start area was well populated with "white-horses. Again, one spinnaker was flown on the way out.
Two races were completed for the three-boat fleet and the finishing order in both races was the same. Olympic courses were sailed and on the first reach of the first triangle the lead two boats flew spinnaker. One boat carried the bag through the gybe to the second reach while the other dropped before the gybe mark. On the downwind leg of the sausage, the lead two again flew bags, but on the second triangle, spinnakers were not a pre-requisite. Again, viewing under binoculars, crews were high wiring off a very aft position with lots of spray and white water in evidence. In the second race, spinnakers were conspicuous by their absence on the triangles.
Despite the high winds, none of the three boats capsized during the races, but two of the three had a capsize each, one before the racing started and another between races. Coming ashore afterwards, Noel Butler and Stephen Oram reckoned it was the fastest they had "flown" in a Fireball under two sails. Ed Butler described it as "hairy……….very hairy"! The most challenging part of the day was the sail home where there were some vicious gusts with jibs flogging violently simply to avoid being blown over!
The next event on the Irish circuit is the Nationals which are due to be hosted by Howth Yacht Club on the weekend of 12 - 14th August. All Irish Fireballers are encouraged to make this event. DBSC Tuesday night racing is ongoing.