West Lancashire Yacht Club

....the home of the 24 Hour Race.

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50 Years Of The 24 Hour Race

The 50th 24 Hour Race

This year sees an important milestone in the history of one of the most popular events on the dinghy calendar, where the social is as legendary as the sailing. West Lancashire Yacht Club's 24 Hour Race reaches its half century. It's remained one of a few events specifically for a teams representing an RYA affiliated sailing club. Whilst the Marine Lake at Southport provides the ideal environment to race dinghies all day and all night in varied weather conditions and for people to spectate.

The idea for the endurance race was dreamt up 50 years by the WLYC Sailing Committee who were looking for an event to celebrate the Centenary of the Borough of Southport in 1967. A representative of Liverpool University put forward the idea of an invitation twelve hour race for university sailing clubs. The university sailors felt an unusual event might attract a higher number of entries. They were not wrong! September was the natural choice for their event as students would be free to compete before the new university year started. It was suggested by the committee that in September there would barely be 12 hours of daylight to fit the race into, so why not go for 24 hours instead? And so the 1st 24 Hour Race was born.

Into the groove, just before dusk during the West Lancs 24 Hour Race - photo © WLYCThe initial race had 60 entries, (50 of which sailed, the other 10 withdrew due to lack of a boat or insufficient team members) consisting of clubs and university sailing teams from as far as Royal Victoria YC in the south to Strathclyde and Edinburgh Universities in the north, racing in the then relatively new Enterprise, GP14 and Firefly dinghies. The concept was simple: The winner would be the team to race the farthest over a triangular course starting at 2 pm on Saturday and finishing at 2pm on Sunday, using the Portsmouth Yardstick rating system. No limits were placed on the number of team members or the number of 'change overs' or 'pit drill' as it is referred to in the original sailing instruction! But there were strict rules written especially to cover unique situation of the 'docking area', which still exist today.

'Pit drill' at night during the West Lancs 24 Hour Race - photo © WLYCFrom its relatively humble start the West Lancashire Yacht Club 24 Hour Race has grown in popularity over the years, at the height of the popularity of dinghy sailing pulling in over 100 teams, at which point the entry cap had to be enforced. The race has been sailed in Enterprise and GP14 dinghies from the outset, with the Firefly dinghy being reinstated a few years ago as it has once again become a popular choice for university sailing. The Lark dinghy has been included in the race since 1999 enabling more university teams to compete in the race. The club now uses its own handicaps which have been calculated using more than 40 years worth of data for the location and are examined annually in line with the development of the classes involved.

Racing stopped when the marquee blew down in the 1983 West Lancs 24 Hour Race - photo © WLYCThe last 49 races have provided many tales for propping up the bar with, including the race of 1983 which had to be stopped in the night as the conditions were so fierce that the marquee blew down and rescue were no longer able to account for all the capsized boats. When daylight returned the Race Officers readied themselves to restart the race but strangely there were no takers! In the early 1990's we had a mini tornado cross the lake in the last couple of hours and dismast several boats, whilst other teams sailed serenely on.

The late 1990's seemed to provide some exceptionally windy races, were Neil Marsden and his Blackpool and Fleetwood YC team stamped their authority on the race with a master class on 'big wind sailing'. They broke the race record sailing an amazing 126 laps in 24 hours. The race that never happened in 2000 as the petrol crisis took hold and the shortage was so severe in the north west that fuel was almost impossible to come by. Many determined teams were stock piling fuel in order to make their annual pilgrimage but sadly it was not to be that year and the tented village stood eerily quiet for the weekend.

Ranked 4th in the Yachts & Yachting top ten sailing events to do before you die, the race has always attracted the dinghy sailing legends of the day, Simon Relph, Ian Southworth, Neil Marsden to name a few (apologies if your name is not included here!) and more recently the multiple national and world champion Nick Craig. Other famous faces famous faces to grace the race include the legendary yachting journalist Bob Fisher provided a live commentary for the race in 1980. Whilst in 2012 we were lucky enough to have some of the returning Olympic medal winning sailors from the London games; Nikki Birrell and Stu Bitthell come and join us and show off their medals.

One of Bolton SC's many wins in the West Lancs 24 Hour Race - photo © WLYCThroughout the race's history there have been many different winning clubs, but none have been as dominant as Bolton Sailing Club, winning a pretty amazing 14 races, whereas the recently dominant South Staffs Sailing Club have managed 5 wins. Who will manage the win this year... we will have to wait and see, but the odds on South Staffs SC repeating their victory with their GP or Lark team must be short. However, the race isn't just about the winning although many teams strive to do so, year after year. It is the taking part in one of the greatest challenges for dinghy sailors. The atmosphere has surely changed over the years from the first race where more than 50 protests were actually heard to the good humour of the competitors these days who spend the 12 months leading up to the race planning the team signature, from sailing bananas, tigers, Minions and inflatable turtles we've seen it all!

Local characters without whom the West Lancs 24 Hour Race could not run - photo © WLYCAs you can imagine the weekend of the race requires a great deal of planning ahead and man power from the club's members and it's friends for around 7 days in September, for whose efforts over the last 49 years we are immensely grateful. However, a trip to Southport can also be a great team building exercise for the competing clubs and their members, providing a rare opportunity for many club members to work as a team both on and off the water in their efforts to get their boat to go the distance.

This year to commemorate the 50th anniversary we are holding a special new race within the race which will be open to sailors who participated in the very 1st race in one of those 50 teams. As time passes and nautical tales of daring do become even more exciting we have included a list of those teams who competed in that very first race in 1967.

Royal Mersey YC Royal Victoria YC Royal Windermere YC Blackpool & Fleetwood YC
Blackpool Light Craft Club Blundellsands SC Bolton SC Chester Sailing & CC
Combs SC Dee SC Delph SC Edinburgh University SC
Elton SC Fairfield Golf &SC Fiddlers Ferry SC Glasson SC
Gresford SC International Combustion SC Leeds University Union SC Leigh SC
Liverpool SC Liverpool University SC Loughborough University SC Manchester Cruising Assoc
Manchester Fire Brigade SC Manchester University SC Midland SC Merionth YC
Morcambe & Heysham YC Nantwich & Border Counties SC Nefyn SC Pilkington SC
Ribble CC Rudyard Lake SC Salford University SC Sheffield University SC
South Staffordshire SC Southport SC Strathclyde University SC Tees SC
Toddbrook SC University College of Wales SC University of Bradford Union SC West Cheshire SC
West Kirkby SC West Lancashire YC West Riding SC White Rose Sailing Assoc

Was that you? Did you sail? If so you are eligible to compete in the fastest laps for your team at 4pm on Saturday afternoon. West Lancashire Yacht Club will be fielding some sailors from their original winning team. They will see you out there! (If you have any interesting photographs of the race old or new we are looking to put a digital display of photographs together for the race weekend. Please send scanned or digital copies to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Thank you in anticipation!).

For competitors who are not old enough to have graced the waters in 1967 we also have something for you! This year the race falls on the weekend of Bart's Bash and we are happy to announce that we will be running a special race for Bart's Bash within the Race. For all of this information and more please go to www.wlyc.org.uk where the Notice of Race for this year's special race is available, or 'like' our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.

Old friends of the Race or new entrants... if you want to enter we will be sailing Enterprises, GP14s, Larks and Firefly in this year's race so come and join us for surely what promises to be a highlight in the dinghy sailing calendar for 2016, put the 17th/18th September in your diary today! We look forwards to welcoming you.

Alex Halliwell

 

 

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