The Larks returned to Banbury Sailing Club on 16 June for the first Lark Open held there since 2010. A strong and competitive local fleet gave the experienced open circuit visitors a run for their money in a day of tightly contested racing, with wind speeds steadily building throughout the day, ranging from 6 to 25 knots. Four races were scheduled; two back to back before lunch and two after.
Race 1 ran in predominantly light winds with at least six boats in contention right up to the final lap. Simon Cox of Waldringfield, crewed by eight year old son George, were first to the windward mark, only to be sucked in by the chasing pack riding a gust downwind. At the leeward mark, Neil and Sue Firth of Banbury emerged with a slender lead over Nigel and Fiona Denchfield of Grafham Water. The Firths held the lead for most of the race, but the rest of the fleet were never far behind, and on the penultimate lap the Banbury team of Robert Gallimore and daughter Alice made their move, picking out the favoured right hand side to emerge first at the windward mark. The Coxs were also making their way back through the fleet, but in the end the Firths pipped the Gallimores on the line, for a Banbury one-two, with the Coxs third.
The wind started to build for race 2, with gusts of 15 knots providing some entertaining reaches. Another Banbury team, Graeme and Sarah Castle came to the fore, leading for most of the race, despite stepping back into their Lark for the first time in several years. The Denchfields held second for a couple of laps but, once again, the chasing fleet was never far behind; ready to pounce on the leaders' slightest mistake. Steve Chatten of Netley, crewed by Samuel Bailey of South Staffs, did just that, getting past the Castles on the final beat to take and hold the lead. The next three places were also hotly contested, but the last lap saw the Coxs win the battle for third over the Firths and the Denchfields.
Lunch (included in the entry fee) was a well received jacket potato, with most people opting for the tasty chilli and cheese! At this stage there were five boats within three points of each other; Chatten and Bailey, the Firths, the Coxs, the Castles and the Gallimores. So there was still everything to play for in the building breeze of the afternoon.
The close and competitive racing continued on a new course for race 3. The Gallimores led for the first lap, but failed to notice that the leeward mark had moved from its usual Club position, letting most of the fleet past as they looped back to the mark. The Firths took over the lead and held on for a few laps, but Chatten and Bailey, sailing together for the first time, were starting to show their true potential and ultimately pulled through to take the win. The Castles, never far behind, were consistently third throughout the race.
Race 4 saw gusts of 25 knots and a number of boats electing to take their discard and an early shower. But the leading contenders stayed out to decide the prizes. Chatten and Bailey thrived in the testing conditions, flying their spinnaker when others were more cautious. They led from start to finish, but were never far ahead of the Castles who also showed good heavy weather form to take second. The Gallimores were third.
So, in the end, it might look like a dominant three bullets for Chatten and Bailey, but in reality they had to work hard for their wins in a regatta of very tightly contested races. They were, nonetheless, well deserved winners. Second and third were decided on countback between two Banbury boats, with the Firths just edging the Castles.
Our thanks go to Banbury Sailing Club for hosting the event, particularly Race Officer Tim Matthews and his team for a very well run race programme, as well as everyone involved in the hospitality ashore.
Results (top 5):
1st Steve Chatten and Samuel Bailey, Netley SC/South Staffs SC
2nd Neil and Sue Firth, Banbury SC
3rd Graeme and Sarah Castle, Banbury SC
4th Robert Gallimore and Alice Gallimore-Roberts, Banbury SC
5th Simon and George Cox, Waldringfield SC