GP14’s dominant at the 24 hour Race

The forecast at the beginning of the week for the 50th West Lancashire YC 24 hour Race was one that would have had some of the lighter crews being bulked up with protein shakes and pasta bowls. By mid-week it though it had dropped back to salad weather and teams desperately searching round for stocks of small children to crew.

The best wind of the weekend however was Friday afternoon which Burwain SC found out to their cost as their marquee ended up blown into the water. By the social in the evening the only hot air was the competitors’ previous 24 hour race war stories.

By Saturday and the midday start looming the wind wasn’t the only surprise guest. Usually only open to GP14s, Larks, Enterprises and Fireflys there was a new class entered for the 50th anniversary, the International Weed Class Association!

Much feared by all the racers and an integral part of this year’s story, weed dominated talk of the changeover area for the first few hours. Anyone with a fixed rudder would have been cursing the gods and spending as much time bent over the side clearing it as in the boat sailing it. That said it’s a situation many of us pond sailors are used to battling on an annual basis so there was no excuse for not adapting to conditions.

If weed clearing was the first lesson to learn, the second was don’t make Mike Senior any promises when you’re drunk! Over a rum punch or ten in Barbados Mike apparently challenged the tipsy Neil Marsden to turn up for this year’s event, to which he agreed. Just to make sure, Mike recorded the evidence on his phone and didn’t let him forget his promise. After the start it looked like something Mike would regret with the Marsden helmed Blackpool & Fleetwood boat making the best start to take the lead from the South Staffs GP14 boat. Budworth (A) GP14 and Bolton (A) GP14 rounded out the top five (with a stray South Staffs Lark sandwiched in third).

The first couple of hours saw the top three start to ease away with Budworth falling foul of the weed and Bolton, hitting a mark and temporarily unable to lift the rudder, booted down to 27th.

It’s the strength and depth of the South Staffs team that has given them the advantage in recent years with this year no exception. Many rival teams would have breathed a sigh of relief as they saw Mike Senior and Ollie Goodhead coming off the water mid-afternoon, only to regret that as current OK World Champion Jim Hunt and Liz Senior took over. With the team also featuring Andy Hatley, Dave Young, Ross Kearney and Haley Ramadhar there were no weak links and the team showed their dominance, after getting past Blackpool they only lost the first position briefly to their Lark team in the night.

Off the water Budworth SC celebrated their 70th birthday with free Pimms for all. On the water at the time happy hour started I was relieved to be allowed to ‘catch up’ by Hugh Deverux and gladly supped up. I was amazed there was any left after seeing very chilled Championship Chair Gill Beddow with a glass in both hands and a waiting white wine being looked after by Chris.

As the sun set on Saturday the wind dropped and the GP14 teams were wondering if they needed to take a hip flask and crossword puzzle out for the night shifts to keep them awake during the float. Having happily swapped my 4am shift for the comfort of my tent I drifted off to shouts of starboard and was assured in the morning that it was cold, windless and most certainly not fun.

With sunrise came new hope that the forecast was wrong and there would be enough wind to allow at least some sitting on the side for the crumpled crews who had spent the night stuffed in the front like an old receipt in your wallet. The wind came and the racing picked up from 6ish until about 11am when it just died completely, the sunshine however never left us so it wasn’t all bad!

With the finish in sight it was only South Staffs who could realistically beat South Staffs. They may be one Club but the Lark and GP14 teams had a rivalry more akin to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg as soon as the cannons started firing. With 1mph wind strength the Lark had started to claw the GP14 back in. Thankfully, the wind picked up with 15 minutes until the gun but things were getting tense. Team GP14 were earlier adamant that the Larks couldn’t pull it back but Team Lark were growing in confidence as the Lark went through for one last lap with Mike and Hayley behind the island. There were quiet whispers willing Mike to have a go and race to get another one in. However as the GP14 rounded the final mark before the finish, Andy from Team GP14 stormed into the Lark camp frantically waving at Mike on the water to slow down. Team Lark were quietly disappointed as they sensed the win had probably gone. And it had, with the South Staffs GP14 ‘B Team’ crowned the winners.

After the win Mike Senior explained why he decided to sail in the GP14 this year after having won in the Lark last year: “Based on who was available for the event, I thought the combination we put together in a GP14 would have the best chance of winning in most conditions and given the additional competition we thought we would get this year.

“Having said that it would have been foolish to not send a lark and then get beaten by a different lark team if the conditions suited a Lark, hence why we put our best possible Lark team in too. Whilst I didn’t sail in the lark team, we very much plan for the event as one team, deciding on who will sail in which team very late, sometimes on the day.

“The 24 hour race is a unique event which doesn’t follow to normal PY handicap rules. On paper, comparing PY handicaps with the handicaps given for the event a well sailed Lark should win the event easily. However, a Lark is very difficult to sail quickly around the marine lake with lots of boats and with the weed this year.

“It was very competitive this year. All the usual teams were there but given it was a special year there were more than in recent times. It meant a lot to win, not only because it was the 50th year, but because it was our fourth time in a row and second successive year finishing first and second which I don’t think has been done before.”

Apart from the win it the Class also manged to get 12 boats in the top 20 with eight from the North and four from the Midlands. 

International GP14 President Ann Penny speaking after the win said: “It was great to see a GP14 winning the prestigious 24 Hour Race and especially in this the fiftieth anniversary year.

“32 entries from the Class is fantastic, congratulations to South Staffs Sailing Club (the B Team) on their success and well done to all the other clubs who raced a GP14.

“Thank you to West Lancashire Yacht Club for once again hosting a super event.”

24 Hours in 240 seconds:

GP14 Top 20 results:

  • 1st South Staffs SC (B) – 22:30 average lap time (next 22:36 lark then the Ent 22:50)
  • 4th Blackpool & Fleetwood YC (A) – 23:06
  • 5th Burwain SC (B) – 23:06
  • 6th Bolton SC (A) – 23:24
  • 8th Royal Windermere YC (A) – 23:25
  • 10th Budworth SC (A)
  • 12th Staunton Harold SC
  • 13th Budworth (B)
  • 14th West Lancs YC (B)
  • 16th Chase SC (A)
  • 17th Midland SC (A)
  • 20th Southport SC (A)