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Rigging and sailing a Fireball


This is a very basic guide to rigging and sailing a Fireball. It is intended for the Fireball Helm and crew who already know how to sail, but don't know much about Fireballing


Jib Shackle the foot to the plate on the foredeck. If there are two holes in this, use the aft one. If there is only one, the jib shares it with the forestay. In this case, they will use the same shackle, with the wire loop on the foot of the jib going through the loop of the shackle (i.e. as far off the deck as the shackle permits). The top of the jib is then shackled to the halyard, ensuring that none of the spinnaker sheets/halyard get in-between the jib and the forestay. Hoist the jib, and secure to the highfield lever or the metal hook at the aft of the mast just above the mast gate. Apply a little tension to the jib halyard and furl the jib around the forestay to keep it quiet until you are ready to launch.

Spinnaker This has three sides. One is red, one white and one green or blue. The white side is the foot (bottom). Tie the port spinnaker sheet to the white/red eye using a bowline. Tie the starboard sheet to the green/white (or blue/white) eye, and the halyard to the remaining eye. Check that the halyard goes straight to the sheave in the mast above the jib halyard. If you have a chute, tie the downhaul which comes out of the chute to the eye in the middle of the spinnaker. Now stuff it in a bag, or pull it into the chute.

Mainsail Get the boat head to wind near the water. Slide the foot of the sail along the boom, pinning it at the mast end and attaching the outhaul at the far end. Put slight tension on the outhaul if possible. Attach the halyard to the top of the sail and hoist it. The person who is not doing the hoisting should feed the sail into the mast and lift the boom when necessary so that the hoister can get the sail right up. The kicking strap should be completely loosened or unclipped so that it never interrupts this procedure. Get the sail as high as possible, with the boom above the level of the gooseneck. Very few sails will go too high, and most slip down a fraction anyway. Lock the main halyard securely by whatever means is available, trying not to let it slip at all as you do so. Pull the boom down and slot it onto the gooseneck (not forgetting to set up the Cunningham first if it is the sort that loops over the gooseneck). Tighten the outhaul until the foot creases up. Reconnect the kicking strap if necessary.

Rig tension - Now apply rig tension using the highfield lever on the mast, the levers on the shrouds or the pulley system led to the back of the centreboard case, as applicable. If you have a pulley system and levers, use the pulley system part first and then apply the levers. You should have some method of gauging how much tension to apply. If not, go for a melodic Boing noise when the shroud is twanged. Don't overdo this, it won't help at all.

Mast - You now need to 'chock' the mast, either by putting wooden blocks down the front of the mast gate, or by locking the strut into place. The idea of this is to ensure that the mast bend that is already present from the rig tension is maintained. When you apply the kicking strap it will tend to force the mast to bend more at deck level, which we are trying to avoid. Hence the blocks (if you use these) go in the gate in front of the mast.

Adjustments - If it is windy, you should aim to de-power your rig by the following methods:

Tighten the outhaul. This flattens the sail. Get this good and tight before you go out.

  • Tighten the cunningham. This flattens the leading edge of the sail, where the airfoil shape occurs.
  • If it is very windy, loosen the rig tension a bit and/or
  • Allow the mast to bend more by adjusting the strut or removing a block from the gate.

Now unfurl the jib and thread the sheets through the fairleads and back to the cleats. If you have a spinnaker bag, ensure that the jib sheet on the side of the bagged spinnaker goes between the spinnaker halyard and the mast.

As the kicking strap often catches on a centreboard in its 'up' position, it is recommended that you do not tension the kicker until you are on the water with the board down.

You are now ready to launch.


Sailing the Fireball

These instructions are applicable for moderate winds, say F2-4. Above F4 you should tighten the outhaul and cunningham hard and raise the centreboard slightly. Below F2, let the kicker off.

Upwind - Centre board fully down. Jib tight in, but not so tight that the foot creases up. Cunningham loose unless you are overpowered. Outhaul tight enough to just crease the foot of the main. Kicking strap tight - anything less will allow the top of the sail to fall away, requiring massive movements of the mainsheet to keep the boat balanced, and much rushing about from the crew. You will know if the kicker is too tight because the telltale on the middle batten will not stream out behind the sail anymore. Aim to get it streaming but close to collapse. Main tight in, eased when gusts arrive.

Helm sailing the boat, crew outstretched on the trapeze if possible, but primarily keeping the boat balanced and level. Both are well forward in light airs, central in a blow. Helm watches the telltales on the jib and adjusts course to keep both flying parallel. Do not luff up in the gusts unless it's a real slammer - just ease the main (and possibly jib) and go for speed. Do not dump the jib for more than a second at a time, you will lose steerage.

2 Sail Reaching - Centre board - down. Jib played by crew to keep telltales streaming. Cunningham and outhaul as per beating - ease outhaul in F3 or less. Kicking strap eased a bit, use telltale on centre batten as per beating. Main as far out as possible before it starts to back.

Helm and crew move back if the boat starts to plane. Bear away in the gusts, plus ease the mainsheet if necessary. Keep the boom out of the water - easing the kicker helps here. If very windy, get the crew well back and maintain balance by bearing away (boat leans less) or luffing up (more lean).

3 Sail Reaching - Centre board - down. Jib adjusted by helm occasionally to keep telltales streaming. Cunningham loose, kicking strap eased - use telltale on centre batten as per beating, or just keep it well eased if you are overpowered. Main as far out as possible before it starts to back.

Start with the pole just off the forestay (set using the twinning control). If the crew is on the wire it can stay there. If not the crew can play it - it should be in line with the boom in theory. Don't let the pole onto the forestay. Helm and crew move back if the boat starts to plane. Bear away in the gusts, plus dump handfuls of mainsheet. Keep playing the spinnaker - it can be eased out as you bear away and doing so gives a huge reduction in sideways forces. Keep the boom out of the water. Raise the pole a bit for a tight reach.

The Run - Centre board - down. Jib well out. Kicking strap eased - aim to get the back half of the top batten parallel with the boom. Main as far out as possible. Ignore jib and main telltales.

Get the pole lower than for a reach and as far back as possible, but keep a decent curve on the foot of the spinnaker. The crew will not be on the wire and should be unhooked for mobility/safety. Helm and crew move back if the boat starts to plane. Bear away in the gusts, movement of the rudder will balance the boat now. Keep playing the spinnaker and apply more centreboard if the boat tends to roll on a dead run.

Tacking with crew on the wire - Helm luffs slightly (and crew may ease the jib in a strong wind) as the crew comes in, and helm hikes out to keep boat flat - they don't tack well when heeled over. When the crew is ready, helm puts tiller across hard and follows it when boom comes his way - helm always tacks facing forward. Crew comes over with new jib sheet, semi-tightens it, hooks on and goes out ASAP. Crew tightens jib and helm uncrosses his hands when all other activity has finished (the helm can sail the boat and trim the main for some time with his tiller arm behind his back before swapping hands).

Gybing Centre board - down, kicker not tight but not too loose either. Try to go in to the gybe with as much boat speed as possible. As you bear away the boat will tend to broach so balance this by moving across the boat and sheet the main in a little. Helm tugs the mainsheet when boat is 'sailing by the lee' (beyond a dead run) and the crew heaves the boom across with the kicking strap and moves himself onto opposite side tank. Helm straightens the rudder as the boom goes across, then luffs up cautiously for the next leg when everything has settled down. The boom will not want to come across if there is too little kicker, it just goes up in the air and stays put until too late. Then you capsize.

Trapezing and the Trapeze loop The crew should set the height of this whilst on the wire, higher for ease of getting into the boat again, lower for more leverage if you can stay out for a while. The novice crew should leave it set so that it can be knocked off their harness easily when they are sat on the side tank. Remove any fancy clips which may hinder unhooking. Always get unhooked the moment the boat capsizes

Sitting Out Fireball helms don't do hiking out. If wanted to do that, we'd have bought an RS400 or an Enterprise. But it is preferable to get your weight outside the edge of the boat when it is windy because it makes it easier to pull the mainsheet in. If you sit upright on the side of the boat you are closer to the main jammer, reducing the amount of mainsheet you can easily play with, and massively increasing the number of muscles (and energy) required to pull the sheet in. Put your feet under the toestraps, straighten your legs a bit, park your bottom over the edge and lean back a bit. Now you can manipulate loads more mainsheet before having to cleat it and grab another handful, and because you are pulling almost directly up the line of your body, you are not expending too much energy when sheeting in. Better still, you won't have to visit the osteopath afterwards.


This information will not help you win the nationals, but you can be very competitive in club races with no more than this.

See also:

Useful tips 2 - full power!

CAPSIZING - it's gonna happen so you might as well.