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Fireball Pre-Worlds Coaching at Lough Derg Yacht Club

by Frank Miller 10 May 09:14 PDT 7-8 May 2022

Sixteen Fireballs travelled to Dromineer last weekend to take advantage of a special pre-worlds coaching session at Lough Derg Yacht Club. The programme, organised by the Irish Fireball Association and supported by Irish Sailing, was delivered by top dinghy coach Thomas Chaix of Dinghy Performance.

Many travelled down on the Friday and the weekend kicked off in the local Whiskey Still bar where sailors enjoyed the best catch-up since the start of the pandemic.

Saturday saw a beautiful sunny day on the lake but alas very light winds. The morning was far from wasted however as multiple rigging advice sessions took place around the dinghy park with generous advice and help given by the more experienced Fireballers to the several new members of the class. With a World Championship at LDYC this August the class is enjoying a boost as sailors from around the island seek out Fireballs to enter the fray.

New faces in the dinghy park included Adrian Lee and Ossian Geraghty, Immy Hauer and Hugo Mikka, youth team Ella O'Callaghan and Oscar George from LDYC, Andrés Gonzalez and Ana Grande from Killaloe, and flying in from the Netherlands Jane Butler with her "old" 420 crew Jenny Andreasson. Hugo's renovation work on his newly acquired Duvoisin was especially admired by all.

When a light breeze showed signs of filling in coach Thomas Chaix briefed the sailors on light air techniques, especially boat handling with minimal use of the rudder and maximum use of sails and body weight within the rules around the start-line. Once afloat the sailors went through multiple starting practice followed by a few short windward-leeward races. Helping out in a second RIB were ex-Fireball volunteers from Killaloe Philip Despard and Stefany Gorski. The debrief ashore analysed the issues and opportunities in the light airs, in particular anticipating where the next shift was coming from - it was relatively easy to see the breeze pattern approaches on the flat water.

Thomas talked too about the "runway" position on the line and putting yourself into a position to accelerate to the gun. Discussion also around the legal niceties of establishing an overlap, and defending your space from "robbers"!

With no useful breeze filling in after late afternoon the fleet returned to boat tweaking and prepping before a terrific BBQ organised by class treasurer Marie Barry with much help from BBQ prepper Stephen Oram and very many others. If the light airs of the day were somewhat frustrating on the water the stunning setting of the lake views from the club balcony made up for a lot on Saturday evening with great food and great company.

Sunday dawned with the promise of better wind and sure enough by the time of the briefing a very decent breeze had set in across the lake. Out on the water more starting practice took place on variously biased lines. Another exercise with downwind starts was very interesting - a running start led to the entire fleet arriving in a bunch at the leeward mark, creating a very realistic big-fleet scenario where multiple gains and losses occur at leeward marks.

The bottom line - no pun intended - is that a boat which anticipates a bunched-up mess ahead and slows down for a clean rounding often comes out ahead. The message being that it's the exit from the mark which counts and sailors need to think ahead and anticipate how they will position to exit the mark cleanly inside the opposition.

After many of these exercises the fleet returned ashore for a debrief and lunch before re-launching for a three-race series to finish off the weekend. Heading out into the building breeze in the stunning setting of the lake it was easy to appreciate what a fantastic setting Dromineer is for sailing. By now the winds were 12-15 knots with occasional sharper gusts. Thomas set Olympic-triangle type courses and three terrific races were had in champagne sailing conditions.

Race one was won by Noel Butler and Stephen Oram, with Josh Porter/Cara McDowell, and Jane Butler and Jenny on their heels, followed by Ed Og Butler sailing with Ismail Inan. In race two Frank Miller/Ed Butler snr led to the windward but on the second reach got into a luffing match with Butler/Oram which took them both well off the lead and allowed Ed Og to ultimately take the win. Race three was won by Ed Og, followed home by his sister Jane with Butler/Oram in third. By winning two races Ed Og took the series on tiebreaker from Butler/Oram.

Fun prizes were presented in the dinghy park afterwards as the fleet packed up for home.

An interesting and very useful technique used by Thomas at the event was to post multiple videos of the various exercises, positions and sail shapes on the class WhatsApp group along with running commentary. This supplemented or took the place of debriefs and allow participants to analyse their performance and handling at their leisure.

Asking participants afterwards about their key takeaways from the weekend was interesting. "Closing out the Robber Boats on the start-line"; "Land of Opportunity - slow down and get a good leeward mark rounding"; "importance of risk management in unstable wind"; "starting transits, getting an idea how the land looks against the pin instead of a single object transit; "On the lake find pressure first, then figure out shifts".

Newcomers really appreciated the help with boat set-up and advice in the dinghy park which was a hive of cooperative activity. Overall this was an absolutely fantastic coaching weekend. It was a mark of Thomas's professionalism that he got so much done on the light air day and the class really appreciated his quite advanced advice on some tricky topics.

The stunning setting of the club never fails to impress and the class and club are really looking forward to hosting the Worlds in August sponsored by Carrickcraft and Tipperary County Council. With 52 boats already registered and a closing date in June this is now looking like a great 60 boat plus World Championship.

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