Buying a boat
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Fireballs come in a variety of different materials, which have advantages and disadvantages depending on the intended use.

Plastic boats (actually made of fibreglass) are among the oldest Fireballs, and are the most durable. These boats can be cheap to buy at as little as 50 (very sad) - 500 (very good). They require no maintenance whatsoever and are easy to mend if you have an accident. They are not favoured by racing sailors due to their lack of stiffness, which means a lower rig tension and relative lack of power. However, they can compete reasonably well with more modern designs in anything up to a force 3, and you can sail them 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 good kit being numbered above 13,000. As with all Fireballs, the later the model you can get for your money, the better. But don't spend too much on one of these, they will always be 'bargain basement' material, strictly for fun. Best buy is the Holt mark 3 if you can find one.


Wooden boats 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. Many 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 rarely worth more than 500, and need careful examination. Epoxied boats can fetch between 500 and 900 depending on their age and condition. Look for any signs of damage, or evidence of peeling paint or worn/blistered varnish. If any of the wood is soft with moisture, don't buy it. Wooden boats are considered to be generally 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. However, if you let them soak up water they become heavier and slower, and can then be a real pain to get right again. Buy only sound examples from around number 12,500 upwards. Best buys are Winder, Severn and HPS, and the gold standard boat is a Winder numbered 14000 or above.


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 not as durable as 'plastic' boats in an accident (the outer layer punctures quite easily). They tend not to be painted, but to retain the gel-coat colouring, which makes evidence of injury relatively easy to spot. However, minor prangs are commonplace and do not devalue the boat. 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 700 normally. 'Composite' boats have a foam-sandwich hull and wooden decks. These are nicer to look at and would have cost more initially, but require more maintenance than a plastic deck. Note - there are some composite fibreglass boats out there too - don't confuse these with composite foam-sandwich - the latter are newer, stiffer and much nicer. Best buy would be a narrow-bow composite Winder at around 700 - 1600, or if your budget is a bit tight, consider a composite Severn Sailboats item for around 700 - 1400.

The all foam 'White Winder' boats start at around 3000 secondhand, and hold their value very well. Generally these boats last forever, which is why they are so popular and marginally more expensive than the alternatives. Some Winder 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.


Brand new Fireballs nearly always all-foam sandwich 'White' boats these days, can be yours for around 12K 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.


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. 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 ?

Price Range

You can afford

Sail number range

 

 

 

0 - 400

Wooden boat which needs some attention before you can sail it.

Fibreglass boat in reason working order.

Any, but take expert advice as there's some hideous stuff out there

400 - 700

Wooden boat in good working order. Epoxied hull if paying over 500. Should have a spinnaker.

 

12,500 +

500 - 900

Wooden Winder, Severn or HPS with nice foils, decent sails, epoxied hull and all the racing gear

13,000 +

700 - 1400

Severn Sailboats composite boat with racing gear.

14,000 +

500 - 1200

Northampton foam-sandwich with racing gear

???

600 - 1500

Narrow-bow Winder composite boat with racing gear.

14,000 +

800 - 2000

Wide-bow Winder composite boat with racing gear

14,350 +

3000 - 10,000

White Winder

14,450 +

10,000 +

New or nearly new White Winder

15,200 +

 

 

 

The important thing to note about the foam sandwich Winders and Severns is that the hulls on these boats do not deteriorate over time, so your investment will not devalue significantly  and you won't ever have to get the glue or paint tin out.

The same is true of fibreglass boats, but they are not very fast in a blow so avoid these if you intend to race.

Composite boats will need the deck varnish touching up every now and then, but this is really not a big deal.

Delange boats are comparable to a composite wide bow Winder, but not as well made internally and can need maintanance. The White Northampton boat was the first all foam and fibreglass production boat, but many suffered from trouble around the seams. Any still going today are likely to be sorted though. They are no longer in production.

The state of the sails is going to affect the price of the boat too. You don't need the extra cost of a newish kevlar mainsail if you're not planning to race seriously. But if you are, then the extra few hundred quid for the good suit of sails could save you over a grand buying some new ones later.

Footnote:

I wrote this page about 15 years ago, and I come back to it every few years in a cold sweat afraid that it's now become total cobblers. But by and large it's remained fairly accurate - I keep having to update the sail number of a 'New or nearly new White Winder', and the prices drop a bit over time, but not much.

Fireball prices are affected by a number of things, including most notably the state of the UK economy, the time of year, and the state of the UK fleet. When I first wrote this piece, the UK fleet was decidedly wobbly and you couldn't sell a used Fireball for sensible money. A DWSC fleet member chose that moment to pick up a wooden Winder for 500 which is still worth about that amount 15 years on. Since then the UK fleet has seen a massive upswing, culminating in the Worlds at Teignmouth with 180 boats. And then (like all other fleets) gone downhill a bit in the recession years of 2009-. I still see some really ridiculous asking prices on a variety of websites, including a load of composite boats on offer for around or over 3K, and I see some real bargains too such as nice narrow-bow composite Winders 700.  Bargain of the decade was a composite Winder on eBay which sold for 350 and turned out to be a very rare all-kevlar boat - although it would still have been bargain of the year even if it had just been the standard model.

I see some truly appalling kit on eBay advertised as 'a project' or 'needs a bit of TLC', and honestly most of it is not fit to burn (and probably too wet too).  If you are looking at eBay stuff and don't know how to tell the difference between a bargain and a disaster, get in touch and I'll give you an honest opinion.

So choose carefully and take your time. There is no doubt that you can own a really nice Fireball, the trick is to do so at a sensible price.