International Fireball World Championship, hosted by Mandurah Offshore Fishing and Sailing Club, final day of racing could not have been scripted to be more tense or exciting.
Tom Gillard and Sam Brearey of Great Britain went into the final day with a four point lead over arch rivals, Robin Inns and Joel Coultas of Australia. But there was another element to the equation in the form of a second discard after race nine was completed.
The PRO, Robin Olsen had an agonising task to set a course for the first race of the day with the breeze regularly shifting between 185 – 240 degrees. As the sea breeze tried to fill the pressure also varied from 10 – 18 knots. However Robin and his team stuck to the task and after two attempts the fleet got away to let the drama unfold.
The first lap was very shifty but true to form Robin Inns and Joel Coultas rounded the wing mark of the triangle in the lead with Gillard and Brearey buried in the top ten. The British boats following were now looking at the battle for third on the podium. Dave Wade and Tim Saxton were in close pursuit from Martyn Lewis and Richard Byne and Chips Howarth and Vyv Townend.
Inns and Coultas just extended their lead on each leg leaving the Brit pack and chasing South Australians to battle for second. Gillard and Brearey were still clawing their way back but it was looking like their second discard of the championship.
Once the discard was counted, this result left the two leaders on 12 points apiece and a nail biting last race prospect. The tension was obviously felt on the second race start line as Gillard and Brearey looked to nail the start but alas it was recalled. The black flag came out and added more anxiety. Then Inns and Coultas got the jump off the line and the first beat became a tactical battle of some magnitude.
Robin Inns and Joel Coultas AUS - International Fireball World Championship 2012 - Tom Gruitt/Fotoboat
The now familiar triangle reaching leg became very broad and first round the top mark got a bit of breathing space on the fleet. This turned into around 200m for Gillard and Brearey as they surged down to the wing mark with a big chasing pack dicing for the inside overlap. At this point the title looked to be won but as the proverbial saying goes ‘It’s never over until it’s over’. The comeback kings, Inns and Coultas were gaining on every leg, going high on the reach whilst others tried to sail fast and low and lay the bottom mark with kites.
On the windward leg of the sausage, the pair tacked in unison but another mistake by the British pair at the windward mark when they touched the mark, resulted in them having to do a turn of shame. This reduced the distance between them but more was to come. On the downwind leg of the sausage, Gillard and Brearey sailed fast and low but a bit too low, gybing late and having to fast reach to the bottom mark. The Australians gybed early and flew down inside the Brits to drop their kite at the wing mark and regain the lead by a boat length.
Tom Gillard and Sam Brearey GBR - International Fireball World Championship 2012 - Tom Gruitt/Fotoboat
Around the top for the last time and it was Gillard and Brearey who had regained the lead surfing down the reach to the wing mark for the last time. However, just over their shoulder was the red spinnaker of Inns and Coultas gaining rapidly. It was the Aussies turn for a small error in judgement at the wing mark having to drop and harden up to round. This nearly lost them second spot but in a ‘never say die attitude’ they got their kite up and gave chase.
Gillard/Brearey crosses finish line ahead of Inns/Coultas in final race - International Fireball World Championship 2012 - Tom Gruitt/Fotoboat
The final reach to the final mark had spectators and supporters with their hearts in their mouths as any mistake could be costly. However this time, the young British pair held it together to cross the finish line a matter of boat lengths in front of the South Australians.
For Gillard and Brearey it was almost relief to not be bridesmaids two years in a row, but on the way back to the shore Sam shouted exuberantly, 'We like to make it close'
Robin and Joel were very gracious in defeat on the way in. 'We are really happy with second' said Joel from the trapeze wire.
Greg Allison and Richard Watson AUS - International Fireball World Championship 2012 - Tom Gruitt/Fotoboat
The battle for third on the podium also went down to the last hitch to the finish. With South Australians Greg Allison and Richard Watson beating past champions Chips Howarth and Vyv Townend on the finish line in race nine and Dave Wade and Tim Saxton (GBR) finishing fourth the result would be decided in the final race. Again places changed all the way round the track but this time it was the Adelaide based crew who prevailed with a fifth in race ten to beat Wade and Saxton by three points overall. Only one point behind Wade and Saxton with a flurry on the final day, Howarth and Townend seal fifth overall.
And so it was, Mandurah certainly delivered the sailing conditions, the sailors made the regatta one of the closest on the water and everybody watching lost most of their fingernails!.
There is now a long break before the next International Fireball World Championship, to be held in Slovenia in September 2013. See you all there. Final Results after 10 races including 2 discards:
1 GBR 15041, Tom Gillard/Sam Brearey 1,4,2,(6),1,2,1,1, (6),1 = 13pts
2 AUS 15025, Robert Inns/Joel Coultas (5),3,1,2,(8),1,2,2,1,2 = 14pts
3 AUS 15032, Greg Allison/Richard Watson 8,2,4,4,6,(21),4,(8),2,5 = 35pts
4 GBR 15045, Dave Wade/Tim Saxton 3,6,(11),5,5,5,(9),6,4,4 = 38pts
5 GBR 15013, Chips Howarth/Vyv Townend 6,9,(12),3,2,10,3,(16),3,3 = 39pts Fireball Association of Australia website