Local sailor John Manson has just returned from competing at the Fireball World Championship in Bridgetown, Barbados.
With his normal crew unavailable, John teamed up with Steven Leask, son of Lerwick lifeboat coxswain Bruce Leask, who currently lives and works in Bahrain.
John had to tow his dinghy to Portsmouth where 43 Fireballs were loaded in containers by Geest Lines, sponsores of the event.
After arrival at the Barbados Yacht Club the containers were unloaded, boats measured and rigged ready for a practice sail before the serious stuff.
John said: “We had not sailed Fireballs together before, and Steven had not been in a Fireball for nearly seven years, so the practice was much needed.”
The two-week event was split into two competitions, with International Week consisting of eight races during the first week, as a warm-up for the 10-race Worlds series during the second week.
Seventy boats were entered with large teams from Australia, Great Britain, Canada and Ireland as well as smaller contingents from Switzerland, Barbados, France, Czech Republic, USA, Slovenia, South Africa, St Lucia, Japan and Shetland.
Two one-hour races were scheduled each day, starting at 12.30pm after the winds had settled into a steady pattern. Throughout the regatta the winds varied from 12-23 knots, but were generally 12-18 knots from a similar angle each day.
Sixty of the 70 teams competed during International Week, with most teams using the week as a practice session for the Worlds. Not all the scheduled races were sailed, as the swell on the beach made launching impossible on the second day, so only five of the eight races were contested. John and Steven finished in 34th position overall for the week.
“Our best result was 26th, with other scores in the low 30s,” John said. “We were pleased with our position, as we were getting used to sailing together, and beat some very good boats in many races.”
With the regatta being promoted by the Barbados Tourist Authority and the government as a new venture to encourage sailing, the competitors were treated to a civic reception in the grounds of Prime Minister David Thompson’s official residence.
During the reception Mr Thompson came over to speak to John and Steven. “He was interested that we had come such a long way from a small island group,” John said, “and seemed amused when we told him that it was snowing in Shetland that day, while we were enduring temperatures in the 90s. We were also able to present him with a book on Shetland, kindly gifted by the SIC.”
Following a Saturday lay-day spent recovering from some local “produce”, the World Championships started on the Sunday morning. Seventy boats were launched into the 29 degree waters of Carlisle Bay for the first two races in winds which were averaging 22 knots.
“With our boat handling improving after sailing together for a week, we scored very well that day in the strong winds,” John said. “We were able to stay upright when others were capsizing, which allowed us to finish with a 29th and 34th to stand 32nd overall after day one.”
On days two and three the winds were slightly lighter, in the 12-16 knot range, so capsizing was not such a problem. John and Steven scored in the high 30s and low 40s so moved down the overall scoreboard slightly.
With a lay-day after day three, John, his wife Emma and Steven went on a tour of the island, as well as visiting a local craftsman who had invited them to his house.
“We met him at the yacht club one evening, and he was amazed we were from Shetland as he keeps two Shetland ponies,” John said. “Shetland ponies in Barbados that was something we had to see, so a visit was arranged and photos duly taken.”
On the penultimate day John and Steven had to deal with a breakage just after the start of race seven.
In the same tack the jib sheet snapped and the extension helm broke, so they went ashore for repairs. They came back out for the second race of the day, sailing well to finish 37th.
Going into the last day they were lying 40th overall with a possible two races remaining. The first race of the day took five attempts to get going, with so many boats pushing the start, but they managed a respectable 32nd place. With the delay getting the first race started, the time limit to start the second race had expired, so it was time to go ashore and find out their final score and pack up the boats for the trip home.
When ashore, they discovered they had retained their overnight position of 40th.
John said: “We had not sailed together before, so coupled with the heat and the very high calibre fleet, we were delighted with our position. We competed well, and beat some very good teams from around the world. I have learned a lot from the regatta, which was definitely the toughest I had competed in.”
The regatta leader board was dominated by the UK fleet, taking the top four places. The event was won by Chips Howarth and Vyv Townsend, the fifth time they have been crowned Fireball World Champions.
John said the people of Barbados were extremely friendly, so it was an ideal place to hold a regatta. Other highlights during the trip were visiting the famous Mount Gay Rum distillery, the nights with local food at the yacht club, and best of all sailing in an area with flying fish and turtles swimming around on the race course.
John would he would like to thank local “ex-Maid sailor” Arthur Henry, who generously assisted him and Emma when their travel plans going south were affected by the ash cloud prior to the event.