Irish Fireball Ulster Championships at East Down

by Cormac 
Photo: Roy Connolly - 2012 Irish Fireball Ulster Championships
Francis Rowan returned to the folds of the Irish Fireball fleet this past weekend, teaming up with Neil Spain to win the 2012 Irish Fireball Ulster Championships, hosted by East Down Yacht Club.

While their winning margin of five points was comfortable by Sunday afternoon, relative to the one-point margin by which they led on Saturday night, the reality was that this regatta was very much a case of snakes and ladders, for everyone, and a watching brief had to be kept on Messrs Butler and Oram and Butler and Kinsella who were one and two points adrift on Saturday night respectively.

Sunday’s two races were trying affairs with a wide range of interpretations on how to sail the beats. The problem we faced was that the forecast for the Irish Sea didn’t manifest itself on the coastal waters of Strangford Lough. While Met Eireann was suggesting easterlies of F2 – 4 for Sunday morning, the micro-climate within the SW corner of Strangford was providing light and variable winds flicking from WNW to NNW, meaning we were sailing towards a windward shore.

On both races the fleet was split, almost evenly between those going right and those going left. Some even tried the middle and saw lots of boats ahead of them at the weather mark as a consequence. Sailing the Olympic configuration, the beats were very challenging, the reaches became tighter than they were ever meant to be and Fireballs sailed down the second reach on opposing gybes to take 'perceived advantage' of win and tide.

Spain/Rowan took Race 5 on Sunday morning with Butler/Oram doing yet another 'Houdini act' to finish second. One of the features of their performance this weekend has been their consistent ability to get out of poor positions on the first beat to finish inside the top 3. Rumball/Moran were third, allowing them to leapfrog Ed Butler and Connor Kinsella into third overall, the latter combination finishing fourth.

Thus, Spain/Rowan had a two-point cushion in first place. A long period of time elapsed before race Officer Roy Edwards was able to get the final start underway. The wind had gone light again and flicked left and right by 10 - 15º. Yet again the fleet was undecided as to which way to go, left, right or middle! It seemed left paid, but the first reach was very tight and the leading boats struggled to get to the gybe mark with spinnakers. The leading bunch was populated by Niall McGrotty and Neil Creamer, Neil Colin and Margaret Casey, Simon McGrotty and Ruairi Grimes, Spain/Rowan, Michael Ennis and Marie Barry, Connor & James Clancy and a little off the pace, Messrs Butler and Oram.

The downwind leg of the sausage started off as a tight reach and became the run it was supposed to be further down the leg. The subsequent beat was a 'one-tack' strategy and the first beat of the second triangle was a very tight two sail fetch. By which time Messrs McGrotty and Creamer had gained an enormous lead (given the conditions). In second place were Neil Colin and Margaret Casey, Spain/Rowan had the comfort of third place with Butler/Oram down in sixth. Rumball/Moran who had tried to work the middle on the first beat, and paid heavily for the effort, worked their way up to 11th, ultimately their discard, but enough to give them third overall.

Saturday’s racing had consisted of four races – two trapezoids and two Olympics. Due to the wind direction the course was set in the area between East Down Yacht Club and Killyleagh, with the weather mark (No.1) in open water, but the outside loop of the trapezoid parallel and close to the shore.

The first race was a Team Skerries, father and son benefit as Niall McGrotty and Simon McGrotty, with their respective crews of Neil Creamer and Ruairi Grimes taking first and second. Rumball & Moran finished third. Race 2 saw a new combination, Ed Butler (Jnr) and Connor Kinsella, take the race win from Neil Colin and Margaret Casey, with Butler/Oram in third.

Races 3 and 4 went the way of Spain/Rowan with Butler/Oram scoring a 2, 3, Rumball and Moran a 3, 5 and Butler/Kinsella a DNF, 4.

This left the pecking order as Spain/Rowan, Butler/Oram, Butler/Kinsella, Rumball/Moran, McGrotty/Creamer and McGrotty/Grimes. A point separated 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4, with two points separating fourth to fifth and sixth with the McGrottys tied on 12 points.

A requirement to pass through the start/finish line on the upwind legs of the Olympic courses caught out quite a few people this weekend and there was a liberal sprinkling of DNFs on the final results sheet. Due to the vagaries of the wind, some people also had unusually large numbers on their score cards – Spain/Rowan discarded an 11th, Rumball and Moran the same, Colin/Casey got rid of a DNF, but counted a 15, Michael Murphy and Alex Voye shed a 17, Louise McKenna and Hermine O’Keefe a 18, Louis Smyth and Cormac Bradley a 17, while Owen Laverty and Ed Butler shed one DNF but carried another.

Aside from the overall and race winners, there were some other combinations who gave a good account of themselves, Connor and James Clancy finished seventh overall with all their results inside the top ten. Gavin Doyle and Richard Franck had four top ten finishes on their way to ninth overall. And newcomers (of a sort), Ed Butler and Connor Kinsella finished sixth with a race win, three fourths and a 13th.

The Silver Fleet was a home affair with John Orr and Karen Caughey from EDYC winning from Brian O’Neil and Don Howes, with Mary Chambers and Brenda McGuire of Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club in third. Orr and Caughey also won the Classics prize.

The venue was shared with the Wayfarers who were sailing their National Championships, a repeat of the arrangement on our first visit to EDYC in 2010. East Down was hospitality personified!

Gordon Jess, of Wayfarer fame and persuasion, was responsible for the organising of the event from a club perspective (as well as being a competitor) and he and his team are to be congratulated on a great weekend. Race Officer Roy Edwards had his work cut out for him with the elements, but he manfully stuck to his task to get six races in.

Photo: Roy Connolly - 2012 Irish Fireball Ulster Championships

Irish Fireball Ulster Championships; East Down Yacht Club

1 Neil Spain & Francis Rowan National Yacht Club IRL 14996 5 11 1 1 1 3 11
2 Noel Butler & Stephen Oram Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club IRL 15061 7 3 2 3 2 6 16
3 Kenneth Rumball & Dave Moran Irish National Sailing Club IRL 15058 3 4 3 5 3 11 18

Silver Fleet
17 John Orr & Karen Caughey East Down Yacht Club IRL 14546 13 18 14 13 15 14 69
18 Brian O’Neill & Don Howes East Down Yacht Club IRL 14595 16 17 16 18 DNF 10 77
19 Mary Chambers & Brenda McGuire Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club IRL 14865 15 16 18 20 DNF DNF 90

Irish Fireball Association website