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Fireball Sailing Royalty Gathers Down Under - Previewing the 2024 Fireball World Championships

by Chris Payne 5 Dec 2023 11:45 PST 5-16 February 2024
Action from the recent Fireball Europeans in Slovenia © Urs Hardi

From 5th - 16th February 2024, Royal Geelong Yacht Club will play host to the much-anticipated 2024 Fireball World Championships. It has been almost 20 months since the last World Championship in Ireland and the Fireball fleet is ready to do it again. With almost 60 entries to date, including 3 containers from Europe and many loan boats, competitors are coming from many corners of the globe and from most states of Australia.

This year we will have genuine Fireball royalty coming to RGYC to take on Australia's best. Most notable is Tom Gillard who along with his crew Andrew Thompson(GBR) is the current World and European Champion. Tom will be looking at winning his sixth Fireball World Championship, a feat never achieved before. Other sailors taking on the challenge are DJ Edwards (GBR) who has won two world championships. One of those worlds was with his current crew Vyv Townend who himself has five Fireball World Championships and will be very keen to beat Tom to the aspirational sixth world title.

The rest of the British container may not have the World titles of the Gillard/Thompson and Edwards/Townend but all have great racing pedigrees. Not least amongst them is Dave Hall / Paul Constable who has finished in the top few in numerous Worlds, Europeans and National Championships. Vince Horey another stalwart of the fleet will be coming in hot from a second at the European Championships in September.

One of the features of the Fireball class is the strength of the Czech team who have been coming to Fireball events through Europe since the beginning of the class. This year they have their own container which holds boats for a number of sailors who have been very competitive in recent regattas. These include Johanna Napravnik Koranova / Jakub Napravnik who finished 6th at the recent Europeans and is strong in all conditions.

Johanna is part of Czech Fireball nobility being the daughter of Petr Koran who is also part of the strong Czech team coming to Geelong. Petr was sailing Fireballs in Europe back when the team had Soviet security guards to ensure none of them defected. Another Czech team to watch is Jiri Paruzeck / Jakob Kosvica who were top 5 at the last World Championships and have starred at a number of regattas and will love the Geelong conditions.

The other European container also has boats for a strong pedigree of sailors. Claude Mermod (SUI) who has finished in the top three in the last three international regattas will be without his normal crew but has teamed up with Esteban Hernandez(FRA) and will be very competitive. Other Swiss to watch is Kurt Venhoda and Sonja Zaugg who had a top result at the recent Europeans and has a wealth of experience in the class.

This year we also have a strong team from France led by Jean Francois Nouel who is moving from the front of the boat to the back of the boat to make room for his son to crew for him. Rumour has it that Jean Francois holds the record for most World Championships attended.

The cost of shipping from Canada was prohibitive but three teams have organised boats and although they will not be in their normal craft, will still be competitive. The one to watch is Mark Cummings / Evelyn Chisholm who have a huge depth of experience in the Fireball class.

Locally the fleet is also strong being led by Regatta Chair Brendan Garner who has teamed up with his National Champion crew Ben O'Brien. They have won back to back state championships and are looking very sharp in the boat. Also in the Victorian fleet is Heather Macfarlane / Chris Payne who finished third in the last World Championship in Ireland.

The South Australians are also looking good with Jalina Thompson-Kambas sailing with Nathan Stockley being recent winners of the Australian Championships. Three times winner of the Australian Championships, John Heywood will also be expected to be competitive although will not be sailing with his normal crew. Ben Schulz is attending this year with a young rockstar crew Angus Higgins and there are high expectations they will be amongst the prizes by the end of the week of sailing.

Royal Geelong Yacht Club, with its storied history and breathtaking views, central to town, provides the perfect backdrop for this gathering of sailing royalty. The challenging yet picturesque conditions of the waters will test the sailors' skills, ensuring that only the best emerge victorious in this ultimate test of sailing prowess.

As the 2024 Fireball World Championships approach, the excitement is palpable. From the arrival of containers laden with boats to the clash of fireball royalty on the water, this regatta promises to be a spectacle of speed, strategy, and sheer determination. Brace yourselves for a maritime carnival as the world's best Fireball sailors converge on Royal Geelong Yacht Club, with each wave and gust of wind poised to write a new chapter in Fireball history. The question remains: who will etch their name in sailing lore as the 2024 Fireball World Champions? Only time will tell, and the Geelong waters hold the answer.

It is still not too late to enter and there may even be a possible charter boat for anyone who is quick. Full details can be found at 2024.fireballworlds.com.

The Fireball class is extremely grateful for the support from the Victorian Government, Geelong City Council and Ronstan. And also a shout out to Fireball International for supporting the containers coming in from overseas.

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