© Simon Cox

West Lancs 24 Hour Race Report

Simon Cox - 11th September 2006

The 40th annual West Lancashire Yacht Club 24 Hour Race took place over the weekend of September 9/10. The weekend was blessed with clear skies and a East to South-Easterly breeze. To help improve this years race the Marine Lake had been dredged earlier in the year helping to ensure there was less weed than in 2005 and the water level was also higher thanks to the recent very high tides.

This was the seventh time the Lark Class has competed in the race. A number of Larks took part from clubs, universities and the Lark Class Owners Association. They competed in a fleet of 65 boats that consisted mainly Enterprises and GP14s.

The first flight away at 12pm Saturday included last years Lark Class winning team now sailing on behalf of Sail4Cancer. The wind had increased to a force 3 gusting 4 for the start and was proving to be very gusty with huge shifts coming off the shore. Simon Cox & David Marlow started as the team meant to go on by getting a flying start and leading to the first mark. Thankfully after an exhausting first two hours the wind moderated and the first round of changeovers began.

Starting in the second flight the Lark Class Owners Association and South Staffs SC teams also started well to close the gap on the leading flight. John & Sue Billington demonstrated their ability to cut through a pack of boats to challenge the Sail4Cancer Lark. They were unlucky to not quite take the trophy for the fastest first two laps finishing second by only a few seconds. The LCOA Team, mostly sailing at the event for the first time were learning quickly and started to put together some consistent lap times. Firstly with Nick & Joanna Marlow and then Chris Biglin & Holly.

The Sail4Cancer Lark Team’s Richard “Smashie” Bennett & Kelsey Suggitt were the second pairing to take over but despite some fine sailing dropped to fifth overall. After some encouragement from the shore they pulled it together to climb back up the leaderboard.

Using a mix of experienced campaigners and the club youth squad the South Staffs Lark Team were also putting together some impressive lap times. 2006 Lark Class Youth Champions Ed Bradburn & Lucy Evans helped to maintain the teams challenge in third place overall.

Every year the team has one pairing that really delivers. This year was the turn of Steve Cumley & Eluned Jones. Putting together a marathon 4.5 hour stint they took the Sail4Cancer Lark team back to 1st overall during their final few laps.

Darkness had set in by the time Jon Lewis & Millie Parsons took over in the Sail4Cancer Lark. Sailing the boat for the first time in the dark posed some difficulties with the GP14 of Bolton SC closing the gap. After some regular place swapping between the two boats Jon & Millie regained their composure to turn a 7 minute deficit into a 3 minute gain before finally changing over to David Marlow & Chris Whitehouse.

Smashie & Kelsey were woken at 3am and told to prepare for the Graveyard shift. At 4am they finally took over sailing consistantly through to sunrise and a changeover to Steve & Eluned who sailed for a further 3 hours. Despite still being tired from their first stint Steve & Eluned managed to extend the lead over Bolton SC to 7 minutes. This was a lead that would not be relinquished.

Just before 10am the LCOA Team sent out the girls to challenge for the Ladies Race. Jane Alexander & Julia Allen competed against a number of other ladies teams. The girls were ecstatic when they realised after coming ashore that they had won the much coveted Ladies Race, amazingly the only fastest lap trophy that the Larks in the race would win.

For the final 2 hours David Marlow & Ruth Johnson took over for the most stressful part of the race. Despite numerous reassurances from spectators it was still the Sail4Cancer Lark Team’s race to lose. Thankfully for the team David & Ruth kept there heads and at 12:07pm the team finally crossed the line to take the winning gun.

This was the first time that the West Lancashire YC 24 Hour Race had been won by a Lark, the previous best being a 10th place in 2002. The South Staffs SC Lark Team came an impressive 3rd overall and 2nd Lark and the LCOA Team finished 18th place overall and 3rd Lark. The 1st University Lark Trophy went to Lancaster University in an older Lark who no doubt benefited from a Friday evening tuning session with some Lark class regulars.

Some thought it would never happen but this was the year of the Lark and with the Lark Class also turning 40 next year it would be great to see some more club teams competing in Larks next year.

All the competing Lark teams would like to thank West Lancashire Yacht Club for the huge logistical effort they put in to running this prestigious event and to all the people that donated money to Sail4Cancer over the weekend.

If you would like more details on competing in the West Lancs YC 24 Hour Race in a Lark then please email 24hourrace@larkclass.org. If you would like to make an online donation to Sail4Cancer then please visit www.sail4cancer.org.

Full race results can be found here.