When two boats go to war | Australian Fireball Championship

By Chris Payne

Competitive start at the Fireball nationals. Photos: Andrew Munyard

The APS Homes 52nd International Fireball Australian Championship was held early January at Nedlands Yacht Club on the Swan River in Perth.

Although the number of boats that travelled to Perth was lower than expected, there was still plenty of excitement and close racing for all involved.

Nedlands was a perfect location for the Fireball class, with grass rigging, easy launching and a five-minute sail to the start.

Coupled with camping in the beautiful surroundings of the club and the traditional Fireball ‘night life’, it made for a great week.

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John Heywood and Brett Littledike were the winners of this year's Fireball Nationals.
John Heywood and Brett Littledike were the winners of this year’s Fireball Nationals. Photos: Andrew Munyard

The first seven races were sailed in relatively light sea breezes of around 12-14 knots with either side of the course being favoured at different times. In these conditions the boats were relatively close and John Heywood and Brett Littledike, and Heather Macfarlane and Chris Payne duked it out to share the wins and minor places between them. Glenn Glenn Peverell and Bruno Lanati also got into the act with a close second in race three.

After a night out at Fireball legends Gordon and Joy Lucas’ place and a day for sight seeing on the only day when we saw clouds, it was back to Nedlands for the final three races that would decide the winner.

The eighth race was sailed in a temperamental easterly that caused much frustration for the sailors and after leading early, John and Brett slipped to sixth with Heather and Chris managing a win to square up the points. Race nine finally saw a traditional ‘Fremantle Doctor’ with 18-22 knots. This gave Nick Gunner and Simon Gunner a chance to show their heavy air speed, taking the early lead. They were eventually run down by John and Brett who took the win to establish a one-point lead before the final race.

Race 10 was scheduled for 11am to make it easier to pack the container, but the wind didn’t settle so the boats had to stay ashore while building up the excitement for the final showdown.

Eventually another great Fremantle Doctor came in and another exhilarating race was run. Again, Nick and Simon were fast out of the box and took an early lead only this time they were joined by Ben Schulz and Tom Ainge, while John and Brett, and Heather and Chris were further back in the fleet.

Heather and Chris were desperate to find leverage on the course, but John and Brett always had them covered and went on to clinch a good win ahead of Ben and Tom, hence awarding John Heywood and Brett Littledike their third Australian Championship in the class and their second win on Western Australian waters.

Ben and Tom consolidated their clear third place and Nick and Simon’s result elevated them into fourth place, ahead of their rivals Scott Lidgett and Jack Lidgett, and Glenn and Bruno, who had been inseparable all week.

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Jon and Elise Emerson showing their style. Photos: Andrew Munyard
Jon and Elise Emonson showing their style. Photos: Andrew Munyard

Other standouts at the regatta were Lance Rock and Kevin Luff who were popular winners of the Ancient Mariner trophy having completed every race, including a 7th – not bad at all for a 80-plus-year-old skipper.

Jon and Elise Emonson flew across from Queensland and chartered a boat to an extremely consistent result with nine seventh place results and were the first female crew in the regatta.

It was also great to see Scott Lidgett back in the Fireball for a ‘rock star’ appearance sailing with his son Jack and finishing a credible fifth overall – hopefully we will see Scott get his own boat now.

The International Fireball Association of Australia is very indebted to APS Homes for the support they gave to the class to ensure the regatta was a success.

The top two boats used quite different set ups with John and Brett using a Selden-Alto mast with all sails from South Australian sailmaker Alexander Sails. Heather and Chris were sporting a Super Spar-M7 with jib and spinnaker from Victorian sailmaker Irwin Sails and mainsails from P&B and North Sails. John and Brett use their home built Fireball and Heather and Chris run a Winder Fireball from the United Kingdom.

The class is now looking forward to continued close and exciting racing at the Royal Geelong Yacht Club at next year’s nationals, which will be run in February of 2019. The fleet is expected to grow substantially as fireball sailors around Australia start their campaign for the worlds in 2022, also at Royal Geelong.

For more information about next year’s nationals, click HERE.

Most Fireball associations around Australia have access to boats for people looking at trying before buying. If you would like to get involved, please contact class secretary Matt Carter via email for more information – mattandhayley@live.com

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