6 Lark teams made the journey up to Southport to contest the 2004 West Lancs YC 24 hour race. The weather forecast of force 3 to 4 attracted an increased turnout on the previous year with 77 teams turning out to commence battle at 12pm on 18 Sept. The wind direction was slightly more southerly than predicted giving a long run up the lake, a long fetch back down and a small reach across the south west facing end. The wind was averaging 15 knots with the odd gust threatening to play havoc with the unwary!
Jonathan Lewis and Milly Parsons volunteered to start for the LCOA A team and after a cautious start anchored to an underwater bush, they made steady progress through the weed and down the lake towards the gybe mark. The LCOA B team were next off and a more aggressive approach brought reward as Simon Hopkins/ Karen Bolland made a flyer with kite up to lead the 4th flight. The University teams of Lancaster, Leeds and Manchester then started in the 5th, 6th and 7th flights, and finally the team from Glen riding Sailing school marched off in the final flight, in a Lark bought on Ebay for £199 only two days previously!
1 hour into the race and a close tussle was developing between the LCOA A and B teams, with the B team making up 1 minute at the start to overtake the A team on the water. The university battle was just beginning with Lancaster getting the early lead on Leeds, but eventually dropping back after a lengthy pit stop to empty tanks. The A team were troubled by lifting rudders breaking in the weed and after trying two different rudder - stock combinations finally settled on a alarmingly short option. Simon Cox and Kelsey Suggitt were the first pairing in the A team to use this rudder and moved the team from mid thirties up to twentieth in only two hours.
As night beckoned it was obvious that the Larks had a battle on with the wind building and numerous capsizes from all. Leeds and Manchester changed down to small sails and after breaking the boat the LCOA B team were forced to stop using the spinnaker. Lancaster pushed on with full main and jib and got the rewards by overtaking first Manchester and then Leeds to claim second Lark spot. The A team refused to give up however, and despite a bent mast, broken tooth (Ruth), broken spreader, and broken main sheet system they battled on through the night. Flying the spinnaker tested nerves to the extreme, a challenge relished by Steve Cumley and Smashie Bennett who sailing together to see if a bit more weight would help managed sub 12 minute laps, lap after lap.
By daybreak it was obvious that the challenge was to get the boats to the finish. The A team were safe in the top 20 but the Universities had it all to play for. After a very exciting finish the order ended with the A team in 18th, Lancaster in 43rd, Leeds 45th, the B team 46th, Manchester 47th and Glen riding 71st.
At the end the usual questions were asked about could the Larks do better? At the beginning we thought that the conditions would suit and to be fair they were certainly much better than the drifting conditions we have faced over the last two years. The top 7 teams were all GP's this year, showing it paid to have a spinnaker, so maybe if we are a bit luckier with breakages and spend a bit more time practicing with the half sized foils we can get into the top 10. One thing is for certain we will be back next year to try, so if you fancy having a go and would like to join a team, or get some advice about how to set up a team e-mail Simon Cox on firstname.lastname@example.org.