It is amazing how many really good adjectives, not to mention superlatives all start with an F. Most of these also work well either before or after the word Fireball. It is quite likely that the events of today out in Tremadog Bay will have created some new words, for this was a day that will go down in the history of the Class as 'that day at Pwllheli'.
To recap on the situation; Birrell and Brearey topped the leader board, though this would change IF the 9th Race was run (as this would bring the second discard into play and IF Tom Gillard and Richard Anderton finished both races ahead of their rivals. The joker in the pack was the weather, as from the outset it was always going to be not only breezy, but bouncy. The shallow waters of the bay had been subjected to three consecutive days of brisk south westerlies and the fairest comment would be to say that as soon as you cleared the breakwater that lined the harbour, the waves were immediately apparent. The only question was if any racing would be possible and if so, one race or two.
Even as the fleet left the beach it was clear that some boats were turning straight back, having decided that discretion was the better part of valour (or a broken boat). But what, or rather, who, was this still on the beach long after the rest had departed. It was none other than Championship contenders Gillard and Anderton, who were up merde creek and without a jib halyard. On closer inspection, it was clear that the halyard had jumped the sheave and was hopelessly snagged. For a few desperate moments it looked as if a cruel twist of fate would decide the Championships, for with his Race 1 BFD, there was no slack in the system for Gillard if he were to miss either of the races. However, another 'F' adjective is friendly, as those on the beach turned to with assistance. A spare sheave was found and used to replace the damaged item, with Gillard and Anderton then dashing from beach to the start area. In the end they had more time than they thought as the Fireballs showed how the 'love the sound of a recall in the morning'!
At the second attempt they were away and it didn't take long to see Peters and Sterritt, having started in their usual spot just up from the pin, were in clear air and flying. However, at the top of the beat it was Edwards and Townend who held a narrow margin that was about to get a good deal bigger. As crews reached the windward mark, they had the 100 m beam reach to the spreader, but this far up the course the waves could be unforgiving. With Fynn Sterritt still in beating mode on the wire, a wave caught them and for a moment it looked as if the pair were going to capsize in front of the whole fleet. Sometimes luck is on your side, that and a last ditch effort to save the situation saw them lose just two places. Gillard was there on hand, as were the Australians, all set off down the run together. You didn't need wind instruments to know that it was getting windier, as it was still cloudy with occasional sunny spells. When the sun shone things looked dramatic, with the waters of the bay flecked with white; when the sun went behind the clouds everything went grey and the race course was starting to look ugly. A rudder went, then a mast. For some, it was time to go home! Peters and Sterritt had clearly learnt their lesson, as not only had they regained the lost ground but would be able to squeeze inside of Edwards as they rounded the top mark for the second time. Gillard and the other two boats would hang in there, with the first 4 boats finishing within 40 seconds; Peters, Gillard, Edwards and Birrell. Not so happy would be the Australian duo of Schultz and Sheppard, who mistook the set up for the finishing line; in trying to unwind their error the pair capsized and would lose a number of places before sorting themselves out.
For the last race of the Championships, at long last the picture was clear. Only a win would do for Birrell and Brearey and even then, they needed Gillard to be fourth or worse. As predicted, the wind had freshened further and was now steady around 24 knots. The sunny periods had now become unbroken, strong sun, which added to the atmosphere of the 'Grand Finale' setting. Away first time, it now became clear just how the seas had built. All week left seemed to have paid, but there was a chance that by going right, boats might get a smoother ride. At the top mark once again it was Peters and Gillard and for a moment it looked as if Peters had blown it, being just below the lay line. Having to tack and tack again is never easy, in those conditions; it was a masterful performance to still sneak through.
PRO Peter Saxton had wisely set another sausage-triangle-sausage course, as even the front runners found the reaches demanding in the extreme. It is a peculiar feature of the Fireball hull that in these conditions, with the boat screaming along at maximum speed, that the bow transom was hitting the waves, creating an arc of spray that projected forward of the boat and in some cases, forming a perfect rainbow around the front of the boat. But, at the same time, this was the warning that you were about an inch away from burying the bow into the next wave; there were not that many who survived a full speed nose dive without the subsequent swim! In these conditions the boat speed of the Hyde/Weathermark set up of Peters and Sterritt was at times extraordinary as they turned their advantage into another horizon job. Behind them the next three places were an exact re-run of the previous race, with second being more than enough to see Tom Gillard and Richard Anderton crowned as the new World Champions. With three wins in the last four races, Peters would tie with Birrell in the overall points, but would get the runners up spot.
A full overview of the Fireball fortnight will be posted shortly, but this has been a really classic event of high drama, top class racing, superb race management all wrapped together by the staff of Plas Heli who managed to deliver an event that could be said to have enjoyed a real 'character'. Not only have the Fireball class enjoyed their time in North Wales, here in the UK and abroad, there will be a legacy of renewed interest in the fantastic boat.
A truly epic day out in the bay
Once again the forecasters got the big calls spot on. Sunny and breezy was the forecast and that was exactly what Tremadog Bay served up. One of the great advantages of Plas Heli as a Championship venue is the ease of making the race course from the sandy beach where the boats launch. It was little more than a 10 minute beach reach to the Committee Boat, but in that time the boats moved out from the lee of the Pwllheli shore. At this point the sea state was more fun than fearsome and with the fleet obviously enjoying themselves it was no surprise when the first start was a General Recall. Once under the Black Flag the fleet became far more orderly and got away cleanly at the second attempt. The earlier selsig debate on the course structure - should it is sausage -triangle or triangle-sausage had been decided for the first race of the day with a sausage-triangle-sausage.
There was a clear difference of opinion as to how to approach the beat. Some chose the right hand side, possibly smoother water close to the shore. Others went left, some as far as the far corner, but at the windward mark it was clear that one boat more than anyone else had 'nailed it'. James Peters and Fynn Sterritt didn't just have a lead, they had some 45 seconds in hand over the chasing Christian Birrell and Sam Brearey. In third place was the hard charging Australian pair of Ben Schulz and Doug Sheppard, who at long last were enjoying conditions that they recognised as breezy.
In the last race before the lay day, Peters and Sterritt had enjoyed a similar lead, only to miss a shift which allowed Tom Gillard and Richard Anderton to hunt them down, finally taking the win on the finish line. This time theHyde/Watermark boat made no mistakes, adding to their lead on every leg of the course. Behind them, places were changing hands with neither Gillard nor Birrell able to catch the flying 49er pair. Once again the triangle would sort out things out, some went high before hoisting, Schulz and Sheppard went straight for the mark and laid it, but none of this made any difference. The leaders had it easy on the first reach; as the middle of the pack cleared the top mark a BFG (that could be Big Fruity Gust, or you may have other terminology to use) ripped down the course, sending some boats way low. Those who had opted to 2 sail the leg benefited, though it must have been a real white knuckle ride for them. On the last lap the breeze was up into the high teens for the first time and at the top of the course, the waves were building fast. At one point the leading boat of Peter's 'took the air' spectacularly, with more than a foot of centreboard clearly visibly. By the finish, Peters and Sterritt had stretched their lead to 1 minute 20 seconds, in that breeze that is a real 'horizon job'. Gillard and Anderton used their downwind speed to their advantage to move into second place ahead of Birrell, whilst Ian Dobson and Ben Ainsworth were the next to ease pass the Aussies. The other front runner overall, Dave 'DJ' Edwards would finish 7th in this race to open up the points at the top of the leader board. However, all was not as bright as it looked for the winner, as the pounding the boat had taken at the top of the course had dislodged their slot gasket; the high speed thrash back downwind had done the rest.
The wind had swung a little around to 220 degrees but was continuing to build, which may have helped the fleet hold back enough to get away on the first start.
Gillard and Anderton blasted out of the pin with real intent, scorching a path away to the left hand wing of the beat. Behind them, Peters and Sterritt had started well but their slot gasket problems would hit their boat speed hard. Birrell and Brearey started just behind Gillard, but sensing the shift wanted to get over to the right. They threw in a fast tack, only to get a very vocal response from a fast approaching starboard hander. Another rapid tack back onto starboard saved their day, before they finally managed to break clear. With clear air and no boats around them, the expectation was that Gillard would be following the example of Peters by having a comfortable lead at the windward mark. But, that same shift that Birrell and Brearey had spotted had brought some new names to the front. Instead of the British boat, it would be the Swiss pair of Claude Mermod and Ruedi Moser who rounded first and set off down the reach, for this second race was going to be triangle, sausage, triangle. Behind Mermod came the waltzing Matilda's, Schulz and Sheppard. Given their start and upwind speed, the big surprise was that Gillard and Anderton were only third. However, the North/Allen pair have certainly not lacked speed on the offwind legs and it would not be long before they took the lead, followed by their North/Allen stable mates, Birrell and Brearey. These two boats may have had a lot in common, but in this second race there was a clear difference of opinion on the rules between them that was being noisily contested. At the finish they were still first and second, with Schulz sailing well to hold on to third place ahead of the other front runner, Edwards. Mermod would slip to 10th, but even this was better than Peters and Sterritt who nursed their boat around to finish 13th.
That though was far from the end of the story, as the acrimony between the leading two boats took them both into the Protest Room. The two pairs had a long wait as there were a number of other protests to be heard before theirs, but in the end it was all anti-climactic as the Protest was dismissed. This leaves Christian Birrell and Sam Brearey back on top of the leader board from Tom Gillard and Richard Anderton, with Edwards and Peters still mathematically in with a shout.
The focus now shifts to the weather, as the conditions tomorrow may be marginal for sailing. PRO Peter Saxton is very keen that a Race Management decision should not decide the event, but at the same time, it is his call on not only the wind, but the sea state. If they race tomorrow, the completion of Race 9 will invoke the second discard, which will also shuffle the pack further. Set against that, if it is really fruity, then there are few who would bet against Peters and Sterritt storming around in their revitalised boat. In wind, waves and two tightly contested starts, anything can happen and this week it already has. On paper, it looks between the reigning Champions, Birrell and Brearey against the new UK National Champions, Gillard and Anderton. By tomorrow, we will know the final results and on the performances of today, it is still too close to call.
An amazing finish to the day
With 6 out of the 10 scheduled races completed at the Gul2015 Fireball World Championships, we now know who will be atop the podium at Friday Night's Prize Giving. Unless there is a change of fortunes even more remarkable that the AC Series at San Francisco, the top three places will fall to a breakaway group of four boats.
Christian Birrell and Sam Brearey. The reigning World Champions, who have made it clear that they have every intention of fighting to the death to retain their crown. Despite taking a bit of a thumping from their Allen Brothersstable mates in last week's Nationals, the pair have shown their ability to street fight it out to the bitter end.
Tom Gillard and Richard Anderton. The other half of theAllen Bros. top team and many people's short odds bet to take the title. Last week the pair were just so good, with winning boatspeed and the golden touch; whichever way they went was the right way. This week Tom and Richard have shown amazing speed downwind, yet at the same time a surprising ability to put themselves into tricky situations. Ought to be out of sight by now!
Dave 'DJ' Edwards and Vyv Townend. The hugely experienced pairing who have seen this all before and prevailed. They've not just been there and done it, they've worn the tee shirt out by now. So far DJ and Vyv have yet to show that they have the baseline boatspeed hit the front and stay there, yet they are never far from the action surrounding the leading boat. Points wise, it would be possible for them to win the Worlds without actually winning a race.
James Peters and Fynn Sterritt. The polar opposites of DJ and Vyv. These newcomers to the Fireball fleet really have got proven front running potential. Unlike Gillard and Birrell, who are both powered by Norths, 'JP' is sporting a very nice set of Hydes and is clearly not lacking speed. Their starts and first beats have been exemplary and when the breeze is really up, the pair seem to shift up another gear.
A well done today to the weather forecasters, who got the calls on the conditions pretty much spot on. The fleet had been told to expect 15 knots with some BIG gusts and as they headed of the beach, that was what they found. With the wind firmly in the South it was but a short beam reach to the start area, which was just long enough for the Fireballs to contemplate their first General Recall. With the line orientation spot on, the Race Team rolled straight into a new start sequence, this time under the Black Flag. Even with the minimal time delay between the two starts, it was noticeable just how the sea state had worsened. With the start laid in just 7m of water, the groundswell, reaching up from the south, was hitting a nasty chop coming in from the West. As the International Jury was later to remark, "there were some big lumps of water out there".
At the second time of asking the fleet got away cleanly, with Birrell and Brearey deciding to go for the Pin end start and simply nailing it! They hit the line with the boat already planing upwind and just scorched away. Peters and Sterritt were in there too, with Gillard and Anderton going for their preferred berth just a little way back up the line. However, they didn't quite get the jump on the boats around them and seemed boxed in, eventually having to tack and wriggle their way out of trouble. Out ahead, there were no such problems for Birrell and Brearey and they were able to take their pick of the shifts to tack, then cross the whole fleet.
In the first race of the day yesterday, Peters and Sterritt had watched, caught on the supposedly favoured left hand side, as a shift gifted their hard earned lead to Darian Scott. Now it was payback time as the Hayling Island pair as the shift lifted them to the front and to a lead that would never be challenged. Birrell and Brearey were in hot pursuit though and with Edwards rounding in 10th and Gillard 15th, the front of the fleet had a different flavour to it. By now the sea state was building fast, with some of the larger waves being topped by angry looking breaking crests. As the bulk of the fleet headed off on the run, the path down to the leeward gate was soon littered with upturned hulls. Even Tom Gillard and Richard Anderton, normally so reliable in these conditions, would catch a 'bigger one' and head off 'down the mine' before broaching. The difference was that they had the skill to get the situation back under control, allowing them to keep up the chase. There was no such luck for Claude Mermod who, whilst in 5th place, caught a nasty wave and went in; he was lucky in those conditions to only lose 17 places, but come the end of the day, this would cost him a top 5 placing overall.
If anything, the reaches on the triangle were even tougher than the run. Just bearing away at the top mark was hard, with the waves sweeping in it would be 'hard school' for the crews out on the wire. They needed to go low for the power, yet doing so risked them being washed off the gunwale. Little wonder that this would be a determined two sail leg. As the race wore on, two things were clear; they could sail all day and no one was going to catch James Peters and the longer the race went on, the more places Gillard would win back. The hard charging pair had made it back to 4th by the bottom of the run, with places still to be made.
With the wind and sea suggesting that the second race of the day would be even more demanding, it was encouraging to see that the fleet behaved and started at the first attempt. It was Peters and Sterritt's turn to win the Pin end drag race, leaving them the only option to go left... left... and further left. Did they need reminding that the lay day was tomorrow if they wanted to cross the bay and visit Harlech Castle. For the second time in the day, their start and first beat positioning got them to the first mark with a comfortable lead, a clear 45 seconds over the chasing group of Gillard and Brearey. Race Officer Peter Saxton had wisely set a second Sausage-Triangle-Sausage course (rather than the normal afternoon option of a triangle-sausage-triangle) rightly thinking that it would not only help keep the fleet bunched up, but would be easier on the mid-fleet for them NOT to have to do another pair of reaches. One reach was one reach too many for Jonny McGovan; steering his boat down one of the Tremadog Bay waves his rudder thought that enough was enough and sheared off at the waterline; Jonny and crew Max Todd did superbly well to bring their boat home in one piece. Meanwhile, out front, Peters and Sterritt were stretching their lead, looking almost dead certainties for their second bullet of the day. At Mark 4, the end of the second reach, they were 1minute 20 seconds up on the chasing Gillard and with just a beat and run to go, that should have been more than enough of a cushion. Yet, as they started up the final beat, the wind was tracking further left than it had been seen all day. The canny Gillard was first into the shift and had more than halved Peters lead at the top of the course. Reasoning that the same shift that had benefited them once could well do so again saw the Allen/North team split gybes with the leaders. As the two boats arrived at the bottom of the course, they were overlapped, but Peters needed to make an extra gybe. As they swung out onto the final short dash to the finish Peter's still held the narrowest of advantages, but Gillard was slowly but surely rolling over them. In the end both helms went so high that they were in danger of losing everything to the fat arriving third and fourth placed boats. In a last ditch, desperate attempt to regain the initiative Peter's played every card possible, but in the end it would be Gillard who would shave his bow across the line, first by the narrowest of margins. There was a sense of déjà vu as Birrell and Edwards went through and almost identical set of manoeuvres, albeit it with a great deal more in the way of shouting!
hese results leave Birrell and Brearey back atop the leader board, ahead of Edwards, Gillard and Peters. With 4 races still to run, a second discard to kick in, anything is possible. The forecast for Thursday and Friday is breeze, in theory conditions that will favour Gillard and Peters... if the forecast is correct.
Tonight will see the fleet 'suited and booted' as they sit down to their Black Tie dinner, before being regaled with some 'interesting' stories from guest speaker Bob Fisher. Bob had spent the day out on the Committee Boat and was full of praise for the way the fleet had competed with each other - and the conditions. Once Bob can be pursued to sit down, the band will start and are expected to play on until late.
Just as well tomorrow is the lay day!
As well as offering one of the best stretches of sailing water to be found anywhere in the UK, the Llyn peninsular of North Wales offers the most picturesque of backdrops. Of course, to be able to enjoy the stunningly spectacular views that include Snowdon and Cadair Idris,, the traditional Welsh welcome of continuous rain has to take a bit of a holiday. But when it does... the sun comes out, the breeze kicks in and Tremadog Bay transforms itself into the perfect stage for a day of drama.
To say that the day turned out to be something of a surprise would be an understatement. The forecast had been for sub-10 knots with something along the lines of a 10%+ probability of a sharp shower. Instead, the sun broke through as the fleet were sailing out to the start and having decided to shine, just got brighter as the day wore on. To match the blue skies the breeze quickly freshened into double figures and then continued to build as the day wore on.
The weather may have changed but the start line issues remain the same, with the now expected General Recall first time around. At the second attempt the fleet did get away, with James Peters and Fynn Sterritt making a pin end start that was straight out of the play book. With clear air they were able to control the fleet who were also heading left and before long the other pin end hopefuls were being forced to tack off. Jonny McGovan and Max Todd were one team that decided to follow the old adage of "when in the sh** (merde,,, but it doesn't rhyme), go right" which they did, ducking boat after boat until a gap finally opened up to let them squeeze through. For the first lap Peters and Sterritt appeared comfortable out front, but as they went up the second beat the wind kicked left, then right. From a stable leading position, it looked as if the pair would be down into fourth, maybe even lower; it says something of their sailing abilities in a boat that is new to them that they were able to recover some of their lost ground. The lead was now taken up by Darian and Andy Scott, who once they had their bow in front set about extending their advantage on each of the remaining legs of the sausage-triangle-sausage course.
Readers who have been following these reports could be forgiven in asking "where was Gillard in all of this?" After not putting a foot wrong last week (and, to be fair, doing the same in yesterday's second race) Tom and crew Richard Anderton were playing Wurzell somewhere around the middle of the fleet. An uncharacteristic poor start was bad enough, only for one of their trapeze wires to break going up the beat. Lesser crews would have pulled a DNF, but with their BFD score from yesterday, the pair set about making the most of what they could, even to the point of passing their good trapeze line around the boat on each tack (a good reason to hit the corners!!). "When the going gets tough...." the tough certainly get going. After the first lap there were up into the 20s and by the finish, they had clawed their way up to 10th. No one would catch the flying Scotts, nor the experienced DJ Edwards and crew Vyv Townend, who would add another 2nd place to their good results from Day 1.
For Race 2, the conditions were just more of the same, sunshine, breeze and then...more breeze. And, just to prove the pundits wrong, the fleet got away at the first time of asking. Or at least, most did. With 15 seconds to go on a U flag start, Dave Wade's boat appeared to pop out from the line, but instead of heading home for an early bath, he tried to hide from the all-seeing eyes on the Committee Boat and Pin by diving back down into the fleet. The orderly text-book example of pin end starting now became an ugly tangle of boats, complete with a cacophony of shouting. Finally everyone got untangled and set off, but just as with yesterday, Tom Gillard and Richard Anderton pulled out all the stops on the second race of the day. They were already clear ahead when the pair correctly called a big shift on the beat. With their lead now more than 200m and growing, it was back to fleet management, something that the pair has shown that they can excel at. Behind then Edwards and Townend were proving the value of consistent sailing with their second 2nd place of the day, results that would lift them to the top of the leader board.
The results though would be subject to the results of a number of protests, one of which concerned the well placed pairing of Birrell and Brearey. If the decision went against them, it would further open up the competition. Instead, their robust defence saw the pair live to fight another day with their score line intact. Edwards and Townend may be front running but the event is only 40% complete. More races, more discards, it is still too early to say how things will look at the end of the week. Ian Dobson, James Peters, Claude Mermod and a handful of others have all shown good pace - after the top dozen or so there is a bit of a gap to the rest.
The forecast for tomorrow suggests a return to more unsettled weather, rain later and more breeze. By tomorrow night, the situation will be a bit clearer.
Anyone who thinks that the saying that it is always raining in England is just a joke should have come to Plas Heli, the new yachting centre at Pwllheli, North Wales. It didn't just rain, it poured, but at least enough wind arrived for Day One of the Gul 2015 Fireball World Championships to get under way.
As seems to be the routine at this Championships, the fleet wants to take several attempts to get under way, despite the line being a full 700m long. The Black Flags caught out a number of boats, including Georgia Booth, the top lady helm from last week's National Championships. More importantly, she was joined on the BFD list by the overall winner of last week's event, Tom Gillard and Richard Anderton. In the post recall confusion, a Czech boat would be seriously holed.
When racing started, it would be Christian Birrell and Sam Brearey who would win the 1st race, though Gillard would bounce back strongly to take Race 2, despite having a second nightmare start. Dave 'DJ' Edwards, Ian Dobson and Switzerland's Claude Mermod also enjoyed a good day's racing in the rain.
It should be drier tomorrow, but with a lighter North Westerly wind , conditions that could well favour some of the European boats, particularly the French, Czechs and Swiss.