Fireballs come in a variety of different materials, which have advantages and
disadvantages depending on the intended use.
(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.
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 £400 and £750 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 £500 - £1200, or if your budget is a bit tight, consider a composite Severn Sailboats item for a bit less.
The all foam 'White Winder' boats start at around £2000 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 ?