by Chris Payne
In 1959-60 Peter Milne of Norris Brothers, sketched a 16ft two man scow, that promised exciting performance, and through simple construction, would be ideal for home building. In February 1962, the first fireball was sailed by Keith Musto and Peter Milne in Chichester Harbour, UK, to show to the editor of a UK dinghy magazine.
AUS 14786 John Heywood/Brett Littledike current Australian Champion – Mandurah Western Australia. Photo by Tom Gruitt/www.fotoboat.com.
The magazine review commented that she was 'good for inland waters or the sea', and that her performance had 'proved intriguing for expert helmsmen, yet she was stable enough to be kind to the clumsy novice'.
The class quickly caught on and in 1963 the first UK National Championship was sailed, with an amazing total of 75 entries. By 1965, 1000 sail numbers had been issued and the first worlds were held in the UK in 1966. Shortly after that (1966-67) the first Australian National championship was held and won by P. Moore and C. Grant of NSW. By this time trapezes had been allowed on the boat, but the class did not accept spinnakers until 1969.
By 1973, just over 10 years since the first boat had been sailed, the class was being sailed in 68 countries, and by 1975, an incredible 10,000 boats had been registered.
Peter Milne sailing FB0 at Hayling Island - United Kingdom
Since then the class has continued to thrive throughout the world. One of the strengths of the class has been the 'ethos' to hold championships at great sailing venues in interesting places. This has enabled our members to not only have great sailing experiences and challenging racing, but also great life experiences.
Examples of these regattas includes world championships at the following interesting places at interesting times:
1971, Beirut, Lebanon,
1978, 2000 and 2008, Pattaya, Thailand
1991, Skadergarten, Sweden (as the tanks rolled into Moscow)
1993, Durban, South Africa (2 weeks prior to South Africa's first 'open' election)
2010, Bridgetown, Barbados
2014, Mauritius – tbd.
Since John Cassidy/Warwick Crisp were the first to win a World Championship in 1974, many Australians have vied for the top spot but few have made it. The winners though include sailing legends such as, Chris Tillet/Mike Rogers (1982) Stewart Hamilton/David Connor(1983),Garry Smith/Nick Connor (1984), Nigel Abbot/Craig Smith(1986), John Clifton/Paul Martin(1988), John Dransfield/Andrew Perry(1989&1990), John Dransfield/Gregor Baird(1991).
Although Australians have not won a worlds since 1991, this year Australians Robin Inns/Joel Coultas finished second and Greg Allison/Richard Watson finished third, showing Australians are still on the pace.
Numerous fireball sailors have gone onto sailing greatness in other sailing ventures, including Stevie Morrison(UK) (2001 World Champion) sailing in the 49er at this years Olympics, Ian Walker (UK) skipper of Abu Dhabi winner of the TransAtlantic leg of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race, plus numerous others who have gone onto sail and win at professional levels.
To celebrate this and to once more enjoy the company of our fellow travellers through the history of the Fireball Class, a get together has been organised for 7:30pm on Saturday 1st September at Frankston Yacht Club, 30 years since the Worlds were sailed there and won by Chris Tillet and Mike Rogers.
For more information contact Leanne Maskiel on phone 0408 052610 or email jhelm1961(at)hotmail.com.
For more information on the Fireball, check out the Australian Fireball website and the Fireball International site