Fireballs come in a variety of different materials, which have advantages and
disadvantages depending on the intended use. I have left the first two sections in for completeness, in real life nobody has made a plastic or wooden boat for decades now, and there's not really much
interest in them either.
(actually made of fibreglass) are among the oldest Fireballs, and are the most durable. These boats should be sub £500. They require no maintenance whatsoever and are easy to mend if you have an accident. Don't buy one if you plan to race - they lack stiffness, which means a lower rig tension and relative lack of power, and even the newest are ancient now so unlikely to have good foils, sails, fittings etc. The only benefit is you can sail it up the beach without causing the sort of repair bill that you'd get with the other models. Look for sail numbers of 12,000 upwards with the least-bad kit being numbered above 13,000. Don't spend too much on one of these, they will always be 'bargain basement' material. Best buy is the Holt mark 3 if you can find one.
Verdict - You can almost certainly do better, whatever your budget.
tend to be somewhat newer, since the oldest examples have rotted away by now. Early boats were just painted and varnished, and required yearly attention to keep them sound. Later boats were treated with epoxy resin on the hull (and possibly the decks), which is a virtually maintenance-free compound and makes ownership much easier. Boats without epoxy are to be avoided. Epoxied boats can fetch between £250 and £900 depending on their age and condition. If any of the wood is soft with moisture, don't buy it. Wooden boats are faster than 'plastic' boats, but not quite as fast as foam-sandwich. They also need a bit more maintenance, but with the advent of modern glues, paints and varnishes you won't find yourself wasting weeks over it. Buy only sound examples from around number 13,500 upwards. Best buys are Winder, Severn and HPS, and the gold standard boat is a Winder numbered 14000 or above.
Verdict - You can race these, but you'll need to either accept a few scabby bits or become an expert in varnishing.
Foam sandwich boats
(each surface is a layer of foam enclosed by two layers of grp or kevlar) are the 'state of the art'. They are low maintenance, although in an accident the outer layer punctures quite easily. They tend not to be painted, having a layer of gel-coat instead. Minor dents are commonplace and do not devalue the boat, as a good repair makes the wound invisible. These boats are stiffer than 'plastic' or wood, and more likely to be 'down to weight' (ie as light as class rules permit). They are therefore favoured by racing sailors. Sail numbers start at around 14,000, and prices at around £400 normally. There are two distinct type of foam sandwich boats, these being
Composite boats have a foam-sandwich hull and wooden decks. These are nice to look at, but require more maintenance than a plastic deck. Note - there are some composite fibreglass boats out there too - avoid these.
Best buy would be a composite Winder at around £500 - £1200, or if your budget is a bit tight, consider a composite Severn Sailboats item for a bit less. Earlier boats were 'narrow-bow', later ones
are 'wide-bow'. Narrow are faster on flat water, Wide are faster in waves or with heavyweight crews.
Verdict - Wooden decked composites are great value for money, as wood is soooo last century. But with scabby 'white' boats starting at around a grand,
you'll want it to look good or be a bargain.
boats start at around £1000 secondhand, and hold their value very well. Generally these boats last forever, which is why they are so popular. Most are made by Winder, but there are some alternatives around. Some boats have panels made with kevlar instead of fibreglass on one or both sides of the foam, usually around the front where the stresses are greatest. Others have 'extra' kevlar. Models from around 15000 onwards were built with less weight at the ends, making them potentially faster on the sea. A few very early boats (numbered under 14500) tended to lose their gelcoat in lumps - you'll spot these easily. Nothing else goes wrong with them.
Verdict - The White Winder is the default racing machine against which everything else is measured. If it looks good then it probably is.
Brand new Fireballs
– nearly always all-foam sandwich 'White' boats these days, can be yours for around £12-15K ish depending on the options list. They don't necessarily go any quicker than a 20 year old composite boat, but you will look good if you buy one. Either a Winder or the new Weathermark boat is the weapon of choice for the hotshot.
All Fireballs should come equipped with a mainsail, jib and spinnaker, as well as a rudder and a trolley. Check that all these are present and in good
order. Also check that the mast looks straight when viewed from the front and fairly straight viewed from the side. It should not be kinked or twisted. Put rig tension on and look up the mast track for S
bends and other nastiness. Some Fireballs have a spinnaker chute, others have bags. It is marginally easier to launch and recover a spinnaker from a chute, but the chute itself adds weight, reduces
buoyancy and may take on water in rough conditions. Bags are more popular these days. Also, check the foils (rudder and centreboard). Old stuff is painted, the good kit is wood or foam encased in
fibreglass or epoxy with nice clean leading and trailing edges. If it's wooden, take a long hard look at the seams between floor and side/front/rear tanks, and at the base of the centreboard case -
nastiness here is serious. Also check for splits in the floor (if the floor is painted then examine the underside of the boat carefully). Ideally, your new Fireball should come with a measurement
certificate, although the old/cheap boats probably won't. Ask for it anyway. If you are buying a boat that 'needs some attention', make sure it's very keenly priced - boat parks across the country are
littered with this kind of 'bargain'. If you are planning to race the thing then ask what level of competition it has been raced at; is it just club raced, or has it been to open meetings, nationals,
europeans, world championships etc. Has it won anything worthwhile, and if so, has it been significantly mucked about with since ?