NFA Southport Race 2017 Race Report
Following a highly successful and somewhat hazy 2017 National Championships it was decided by the more foolhardy wing of the National Firefly Association that it was about time for the NFA to once again try it’s hand at the Southport 24hr Race. For those readers unfamiliar with the format of this particular competition it evolves the mildly herculean feat of teams racing their choice of Firefly, Enterprise, Lark or GP14 continually around the sunny surroundings of Southport Marine Lake from one noon to the next whilst attempting to avoid collisions in the pitch black of night amongst large and shifting weed mats, all whilst trying to maintain some modicum of boat speed and sobriety. Or maybe just boat speed.
Facilitated by the generous loan of a Rondar Firefly from Birmingham University Sailing Club, a hardy band of five NFA members managed to negotiate the total closure of the M6 to find themselves arriving at the West Lancashire Yacht Club in the middle of an unseasonably autumnal gale. Undeterred by the bad weather and in full NFA spirit, the team members set to renewing old friendships in the bar whilst embracing the generous welcome offered by WLYC and the other competing clubs in to the early hours.
True to Southport form Saturday morning dawned wet, overcast and blustery with an enthusiastic 12-15knots from the southwest clearing many an aching head. In the spirit of always returning a boat in better fettle that you found it, and definitely not to show off how much they knew about splicing, the small but spirited team set to transforming their solid but well-used university team racing Firefly in to the best racing form that five pairs of shaking hands and a splicing needle could make it. After a quick sniff of the dying breeze and a makeshift breathalyser test it was decided that this year’s Gore winner (did you hear Guy won the Gore?) and class technical secretary Guy Davison would take the helm for the opening two hour stint with the support of Marlow winning crew Fi Edwards.
Despite a tentative start in the first flight of competitors the Davison/Edwards pairing showed to be a good choice in the steadily decreasing south-westerly with the team managing to steer clear of any trouble whilst keeping pace with their closest competitors, and entrants for the fiftieth consecutive year, West Oxfordshire Sailing Club. With the pressure steadily decreasing across the race course with every lap, lightweight rolling tacking expert and experienced team racing helm Emily Heath of Birmingham USC generously offered to take to the water for the next stint with the author in the front for the duration. Despite their somewhat mismatched sizing this pairing again bore fruit as they managed to consistently outpace their university rivals whilst gaining distance on the WOSC team up the short beats at the southerly end of the course in the still faltering breeze.
The four o’clock changeover saw this year’s Marlow Trophy winning team of Ben Green and Fi Edwards taking charge and commendably threading their way through a cloud kites as Lark and GP14 teams took advantage of a slight southerly shift to keep their spinnakers flying throughout their crew changeovers, with sometimes hilarious results. With the far, easterly leg of the course now a beat the Green/Edwards team did well to keep momentum against the bigger sails of the GP14s and Enterprises on the course. Our valiant Gore winner once again took the helm for the sunset stint; this time crewed by an eager volunteer in the form of Tilly Allen of Manchester University Sailing Club. No doubt drawn to our technical secretary by tales of his prowess on the race course, Ms. Allen was treated to two hours of one-on-one tuition in the finer points of Firefly speed-sailing set to the dramatic backdrop of Southport winking its lights on, one by one.
Now illuminated by nothing more than the odd street lamp, the glare of a couple glow sticks and a sizeable quantity of whisky, come ten o’clock the author once again took to the decidedly calm waters of Southport Marine Lake in what can only be described as the gentlest of whispering west-south-westerly. Salvation is often said to come from unexpected quarters and this salvation was no different as first Alistair Grant of Nottingham USC then Alistair Smith of Birmingham USC volunteered to lend their expert hands to guide the good ship NFA through two somewhat agonising laps of the marine lake in two hours. Set to the sound of the raucous entertainment offered by WLYC these laps saw a feast of snakes and ladders sailing with our valiant helms doing their best to maintain momentum, often to the dismay of larger dinghies left in the distance.
With the further reaches of the lake now truly cloaked in darkness the eager and suspiciously enthusiastic team of Emily Heath and Charlie Fitzgerald, newly freed from his alumni obligations to Sheffield Hallam USC, successfully giggled their way around the lake for the next two hours. Attendees at this year’s championships will be all too familiar with Ms. Heath’s ability to consume eye-watering quantities of gin whilst continuing to set a blistering speed on the race course and this event was no exception. Against difficult conditions Fitzgerald/Heath managed to maintain a respectable pace as the pair regularly swapped positions in the boat with all the ease and grace of a rather sozzled pair of fawns on ice. Well, they got round anyway.
Midnight saw our sailing secretary yet again taking to the water, somehow coaxing Alistair Smith back in for his second round of NFA sailing of the night. Despite a valiant effort the long hours of prep, sailing and refreshment now began to tell for the NFA as weariness took hold of the small team. With better supported teams swapping in fresh pairs on a near-hourly basis the weary sailors did well to maintain even a shade of consciousness. Even with the bright-eyed sailors of WOSC stretching out a slow but steady lead the Green/Smith pair showed exceptional concentration in maintaining their position in the now slightly more enthusiastic south-westerly. Cradling a hip flask but evidently showing all the right skills, two o’clock in the morning saw the Davison/Allen pairing reprising their earlier performance. Despite a slightly shaky handover (not a drop spilt) and a few somewhat blurry manoeuvres this pair did well to fight off stiff competition from Birmingham University in to the early hours of Sunday morning.
With the author thinking ahead to Sunday’s six-hour boat-towing drive home, and thus highly reluctant to take to the water after so little sleep, special mention must at this point go to two unlikely saviours in the form of Charlie Fitzgerald and Ed Badger of Sheffield Hallam. Requiring only the briefest of requests this pair put down their pints, hitched their braces in the way only men from north of the Watford Gap are able, picked up their pints again (with interest) and hopped in the boat for the four o’clock stint. Outside sources inform this author that pace was somehow maintained despite this pair’s frequent pauses for refreshment with the maintenance of the NFA’s second place throughout this period to bear witness. Good work chaps.
Six o’clock and the rising sun saw our Marlow winners once against hopping in to the now somewhat bottle strewn team machine. No doubt feeling slightly achy after the previous day’s efforts, and after only three hours sleep, this pair showed us all why they deserved to win the Marlow this year. Showing a reckless disregard for the usually strict etiquettes of sailboat racing the Green/Edwards team could be heard calling the shifts and encouragement to each other from the far side of the race course in an effort to maintain concentration and some vague form of consciousness. With Birmingham USC out of the second place running following a disastrous series of beer-induced midnight capsizes our Marlow winners now firmly set their sights on WOSC’s transom, managing to close the gap admirably.
Eight o’clock saw this author somehow managing to induce the rising star of Alistair Grant back in to the driving seat for another hour of tense racing. With the breeze now slowly building from its midnight calm but sticking solidly in the southwest this pair managed to maintain their earlier pace but struggled to catch the now far fresher WOSC team as they slowly extended their lead. With a very heavy weather front forecast to move in for the last hour of the race the lighter pairing of Davison/Edwards elected to take over at nine o’clock whilst they could still keep the boat upright with a mandate to give it one last push. True to their word these two put in everything they had in the steadily increasing breeze to hold off a youthfully rejuvenated and frustratingly sober Birmingham USC.
In light of the forecast 25-31knots SSW front moving in the team chose to deploy their heavy weather weaponry for the last hour of the race in the form of the Green/Ogilvie pairing. With a combined weight more suited to a Merlin Rocket than a Firefly these two weary but eager NFA stalwarts managed a feisty flying changeover to start what they hoped would be the toughest but most rewarding hour of the race. Unfortunately, despite the ominous storm cloud rolling in from the south, all the eagerness in the world wouldn’t see this devious planning yield results as an hour’s delay in the forecast saw the pair nearly capsizing on the very last bear away as their ideal conditions swooped in with half a leg to go. The NFA team was placated in this slightly disappointing finale by the gratifying sight of the Sheffield Hallam team’s mast making a graceful exit from their boat with less than one hundred yards to the finish. Splendid.
Showing that meagreness is no indication of future success in a well organised team on the race course, the NFA managed a commendable performance with a finish in twenty first place overall of sixty three competitors. Though this result bought home no silverware the team were happy to have shown the NFA as a capable force on the national dinghy scene as we approach our seventy second year. Despite being pipped to the Firefly trophy by only 2.25 laps the NFA congratulates WOSC on their stellar performance and promises, with shaking fists, to return next year.
Special thanks must be dispensed to the valiant sailors of Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield Hallam University Sailing Clubs for their fantastic performances on behalf of the NFA throughout this event which, quite literally, would not have happened without them. Our thanks also go out to the staff and volunteers of West Lancashire Yacht Club for organising a fantastic race.
This author will close by offering the reader a simple thought: if five NFA members can accomplish so much with so little in this race, what could double or triple that number achieve?
See you next year!
|West Oxfordshire S.C. (A)||18|
|Birmingham University S.C.||26|
|Nottingham University S.C.||38|
|Plymouth University S.&P.C. (B||52|
|Rossendale Valley S.C.||54|
|Bath University S.C.||55|
|Manchester University S.C.||58|