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'I say you chaps', cried Iain (Fireball Head Boy and scourge of the dorms), 'For the next two weekends Draycote is holding the altogether spiffy annual Marriott Mug competition for Fireballs. Wouldn't it be a wizard plan to get all the gang together and make it a proper bash with Timmy the dog and jam and custard for tea !'

For the benefit of the rest of you fellows out there, the Marriott Mug event has been a highlight of the Draycote Fireball calendar for longer than anyone can remember, in spite of the fact that we have actually lost the bloody trophy. The principle is simple. Over the previous few weeks the organisers take careful note of how fast the individual boats in the fleet are going, with due regard to the crew weight, wind strength, length of race and how many beers they are bought. They then massage these figures into a list of personal handicaps, with the idea being that the slow boats start off before the fast ones and they should all end up crossing the finish line at the same time. Obviously, in the days beforehand all the competitors stick to the spirit of the thing also, hiding all their new sails and wandering round the boatpark complaining loudly about the dreadful state of the welding at the top of their mast.

To add further to the event's attractions and to try to avoid antagonizing every other fleet in the club, the staggered start takes place from the shore, with the only restriction being that some part of one crewmember's anatomy must be touching the ground when the gun goes for that boat's start. As some of our members are apparently incapable of operating a stopwatch for themselves, we employ a number of helpers to organise the competitors so that they have their boats ready in the water at the proper time, with their sails up, shoelaces tied, ears clean etc.

The event proved very popular this year, with a record 23 club Fireballs taking part on the 1st Sunday of racing, 19 on the 2nd Sunday and a total of 55 people in 28 different boats competing over the two weekends. We were lucky with the weather, and had a sensible force 1-3 and bright sunshine over both days. This was in contrast to last year when it was stupidly windy and all the slow boats got washed up in a big heap on the lee shore.


Rob (+2 mins) gets off to a dubious start while Graham and Jim (+1) make their escape.

Race one started in an offshore 5 knots Southerly, and the early starters made very good progress around the course while the remaining members of the fleet stood on the shore willing the countdown to go faster. A quick launch was paramount, and many of the earlier boats had hauled up their spinnakers beforehand, in some cases resulting in the crews being dragged along as the boats tried to leave the shore before the proper time.

Kyle Hourigan takes up the story.

It seemed the 4-6 minute advantage that the bulk of the fleet had on the faster boats was too big a margin in the light airs, and while we noticed that they were gaining it was never going to be enough....  So we could concentrate on the slower boats in front. We had a bit of luck when John Tenney went the wrong way (ha ha) giving us fourth place with a beat back up to the clubhouse. We were very impressed with the speed of the front boats who clearly had the bit between their teeth and were not going to let anyone through without a fight!  Colin Snowdon covered us all the way up the beat, with another two boats in front not seeming to be any closer than at the leeward mark!  We just cleared Colin at the windward mark and found ourselves in third place, with the first two boats heading downwind nearly a leg ahead.  With the wind now a bit steadier we halved the distance by the next mark and were fortunate to have a fantastic 3 sail reach across to the penultimate mark where we picked off the final two leaders.  The following pack were closing fast, but the 3 sail reach had become a bit of a handful in the increasing breeze, allowing the fast boys to pick up a few more places.


A small  angry lynch mob prepares to search for the handicapping committee

Race two saw a very tactical move from Pete 'Pot Hunter' Badham as he moved from the back of his boat (and the back of the starting grid) to the front, electing that there was no way he could compete with the speed of the Draycote fleet in his own boat, and so joining Paula in hers!  This proved a very wise move, resulting in them winning race two with Colin a close 2nd, and ourselves in 3rd some way behind!  Graham and Sue led the hotshots and had us worried for a while, but John held them back! Cheers John!

A week passed and Sunday dawned again, with a cool 10 knot Northerly wind. 'Pot' Badham had already done his maths, and informed us that we were the leading boat, with Paula a close second.  The other hot favourite, Colin, sportingly didn't turn up at all to make life a bit easier for the rest of us. Andy Smith and James Meldrum  had come for the day, so they agreed a handicap with the fleet and then went off for a cup of tea and a postal learning course while the rest of us were starting!

With the wind from the North it proved tactical up to the windward mark, with trapezing in short gusts and 20 degree shifts under the Northern bank. We reached the windward mark just behind a gaggle of boats and Mel elected to sail low round the next reach. We were lucky as all the boats who sailed high ran straight into a hole and watched as we picked off four places in one move… maybe we could catch Pete and Paula today!.

 The chasing hot shots were on the ball today (no pun intended), with Andy and James showing them the way.  We didn't want to be caught  too early in the race and managed to keep the 150 yard buffer between us and Andy for half a lap before he came up on us really quickly and passed us on the beat, and we managed to pass Paula and Pete and a few of the other front runners, only to go right and lose it all again! At the windward mark we did our usual head low trick and Andy Smith went lower still and pulled out 50 yards! Amazing stuff!  Nigel did the same move on the run and undertook us, only to fail to get water on Andy Malin have to sail the wrong side of the mark, giving us back our position.... Came fourth behind Andy Malin, Peter Wood and Dangerous Dave. Andy Smith was not signing off, something about him being European Champion I think !

Race four started and we set off following Helen and Mike who had a 30 second  handicap on us, everything looked good until we tacked onto starboard, then we saw all the back of the fleet, led by Messrs Smith & Meldrum almost reaching to the windward mark in 15 knots of breeze! That was all of our handicap used up in one go! Never mind, it gave us a chance to compare ourselves with Mike, Don, Eugene, Jez and Graham. Not for long apparently, as they blasted off in the increasing breeze in chase of more prey! We managed to cling onto the back of Mike for a lap and re-took a position from Jez and Rosco as the breeze eased a little.  Caught Nigel and he promptly  re-took us with his favourite gybing run manoeuvre, must learn how to defend against that!  and we just pipped Dave on the final leg to the finish, 8th place in that one, worst result in the whole event, but not upset as the boat felt like it was going well, just a few too many mistakes. We got back onto shore to the congratulations of Pete and Paula. Unknown to us both Mike and Andy had managed to overtake them so they had a 2nd place (Andy retired again), giving us the overall result.

But it's not the winning that made this such a fun couple of weekends, it's the chance to "mix it" with the faster boys, seeing how they get that extra ¼ of a knot on a run/reach where normally they would have been 200 yards ahead by that point. And it's about overtaking a lot of people who are slower than you but who don't want to be overtaken - very exciting.

A thing I noticed from last year was that the fleet is much quicker, throughout the fleet, everyone is learning and that is what these events are all about., when you see how fast a fireball can go in the right hands we all know that we never stop learning...

A special thank you to everyone who helped run this years event, from rallying the fleet to time-keeping and course setting. The handicaps were not perfect (they never are), but it is good to see that the four races were won by four different boats, and that those boats had handicaps ranging from 4 to 13 minutes.


Now we are faced with defending our title next year…

Kyle & Mel

GBR 14708