When Fireball International decided to hold its World Championships in South Africa in December 2016, the Fireball Association of South Australia decided to move the Australian Championships back six weeks and sign up a country club for a four-day event.

Rivoli Bay Sailing Club, which is located at Southend on the pristine Limestone Coast of South Australia was chosen as the venue. Launching and sailing at Rivoli Bay is traditionally done onto a protected bay directly onto the Southern Ocean, but this year’s event coincided with a strong westerly airflow which brought a six-metre swell. Fortunately the reefs around the bay reduced the shore break to “manageable” although not totally without issues and some minor damage was sustained.

The Fireball class was treated to an exceptional four days of racing, which was only surpassed by the friendliness and effort of the Rivoli Bay Sailing Club’s members. Not only did they run the racing, they also made us coffee, lunch, dinner, served beers, grabbed our trollies when we launched and entertained us.

We did feel that one of the club’s members took the effort a little far when he was bitten by an ant while putting sail numbers on the boat’s trollies. This resulted in a rush to the local hospital in an ambulance. Fortunately he recovered enough to run that evening’s Trivia Night. The dedication was certainly appreciated and only surpassed by the relief that a tragedy was averted.

The club is only 100 metres from the Southend Caravan Park and the majority of entrants enjoyed the camping and dormitory accommodation provided and the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. This all made for an extremely enjoyable regatta, even though the low temperatures and rain tried to dampen the competitor spirits.

Dick McCulloch and Glenn Stewart sailing to windward with pace. Photo: Michelle Thompson

Dick McCulloch and Glenn Stewart sailing to windward with pace. Photo: Michelle Thompson

This year’s nationals had competitors from most states of Australia, including one of the class stalwarts, Steve Goacher, flying in from the UK to check out a “real” Australian championship. He did point out that the conditions did remind him of home.

The racing was extremely close with three crew combinations having won the Australian Championship before and Ben Schulz and Jack Lidgett coming off a third at the World Championship just six weeks earlier. There were a mix of conditions, but the biggest day had to be called off as the start boat was in danger of being swamped by the swell and wind. The racing was conducted in predominately 12 to 18 knots with the occasional rain squall, while the last day was sailed in champagne conditions with sun and wind and the traditional Rivoli Bay turquoise water.

John Heywood and Brett Littledike were the early leaders but a run in with a cray pot line affected a couple of races due to damage to their rudder and a later failure ruined their chances. Matt Carter and Matt Neale finished off the regatta well as the wind increased, but left too much to do at the end. Tom Gordon and Jack Fletcher showed consistency, but a couple of bad races early on made it too hard for them to finish higher than third.

Last year’s Australian Champions Peter Inns and Joel Coultas showed they still had their form and won number of races easily, but struggled to put two races together. This left Heather Macfarlane and Chris Payne to be this year’s Australian Champions, just more than 10 years since their last win. Two DNCs due to gear failure made it difficult, but a determined race officer ensured enough races were completed to get a second drop race.

A big thank you goes out to the Rivoli Bay Sailing Club for the an amazing effort which made the regatta a huge success for all competitors and hangers on with everyone smiling even on the cold wet mornings.

Also a big thank you to the International Fireball Association of Australia, particularly to Dave Godden, Joel Coultas and their helpers for pulling it all together.

Full results can be found HERE