With the double-header of the European and World Championships just over three weeks away, the International Fireball Class is in countdown mode to the pinnacle of the 2013 international regatta season in Portoroz, Slovenia.
The Europeans and Worlds will be hosted between 9-20 September with the Europeans taking up the first week. To date fifty-six boats are entered for the Europeans and seventy-one boats for the Worlds, with eleven countries represented and two continents.
As with most international events in the Class, the UK contingent is the biggest with seventeen boats but they are being pushed hard by hosts, the Slovenians with sixteen boats and the Czechs with fifteen boats. Thereafter, the pecking order is Italy (6), Ireland and Switzerland (5), Belgium & Shetlands (2) and Canada, France and Germany 1 each.
The entry list reads like the "Who's Who" of the Class with current World Champions, past World Champions, National Champions, Sailmakers, Class Officials and stalwarts of the class who appear at most World Championships.
The World Champions from 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 are on the entry list, as are the European Champions from 2012. One half of the winning combination from the recent UK Nationals is entered sailing with the defending World Champion crew. A significant number of the top ten crews at the UK Nationals, from a 49 boat fleet, will be in Slovenia.
The defending European Champions are Matt Burge and Richard Wagstaff who won the title in Bracciano, Italy in July 2012. At the recent UK Nationals they finished fifth overall in what the reports of the event describe as being a very competitive regatta.
The defending World Champions from the December 2011/January 2012 regatta in Mandurah, Western Australia, Tom Gillard and Sam Brearey, have split for the Slovenia event with Tom sailing with Simon Potts and Sam sailing with Christian Birrell. They also won the 2010 Europeans sailed in the Czech Republic. Their predecessors as World Champions, Matt Burge & Richard Wagstaff (Sligo, Ireland) have already been mentioned, but their predecessors in turn, Chips Howarth & Vyv Townend (2009, La Rochelle and 2010, Barbados) are entered for both regattas.
From the UK Nationals sailed in Looe, Cornwall, a couple of weeks ago the conspicuous absentee is the winning crew, Richard Anderton. Other top ten finishers from the UK Nationals include David Wade, fourth helm, Matt Rainback & Simon Foskett (6th overall) and Peter Gray & Tim Saunders (9th overall). And while the other countries may argue that a UK win shouldn't be a foregone conclusion, the reality is that if a team from outside the UK is to win, this is the pedigree of competitor they will have to beat.
The Czechs have shown in recent times that the standard of their fleet has improved significantly and, after a 37-boat Nationals at Lake Lupno in July, they will be doing their best to ensure they are at the front end of the fleet. Claude Mermod and Rudi Moser will probably lead the Swiss challenge and the Irish will look to the likes of new National Champion Kenny Rumball and his predecessor Noel Butler & Stephen Oram to front up their challenge. The French will be represented by perennial Worlds competitor Jean Francois Nouelle ("Cantona") sailing with Juin Franck and our German friends Joerg Nolle & Roger Leeman will do their best to upset the form horses. And the man who has probably sailed more Fireball international regattas that anyone else in the current fleet, Louis Smyth of Ireland will also be there.
If there is to be an award for the furthest distance travelled to the regatta, then the "shoe-in" for that award is the Canadian combination of Fireball International Commodore and Technical Representative, Joe Jospe and Tom Egli respectively. However, from within Europe, there are two entries from the Shetlands who would surely have the longest distance to drive to the event, never mind the most ferries to catch.