Lord Birkett Memorial Trophy at Ullswater Yacht Club
It was a memorable two days for the hundreds of competitors in the iconic race which less than two weeks earlier had won the award for Cumbria Tourism Event of the Year. It also turned out to be ‘experience of the year’ for the racers in the 230 boats taking part, with Saturday’s race held in extreme conditions.
The increasingly strong South-westerly winds on Saturday made for an ideal giant windward leeward course and race officer David Clarke sent the boats to the furthest island, Cherry Holm, and back to the Pooley Bridge end of the lake, returning to a finish at the club.
With the start line the full width of the lake, the racers got away at the third black-flagged attempt and the wind got stronger and stronger as the sailors made their way down the lake. Those who made it to Cherry Holm, the 49ers were the first round, found that the wind eased and became very shifty. But on the return, it was back with a vengeance, providing exhilarating downwind conditions which were too much for many of the competitors.
Matty and James Lyons in their 49er were first back, but the 505 of Nathan Batchelor and Andy Weatherspoon was close enough on time to win on handicap. Of the 230 starters, 81 boats crossed the finishing line. Some boats opted to head back to the club without sails, others waited on the shore for help, and there were several dramatic incidents on the water.
The safety crews were at full stretch and many of the early-finishing racers went back on the water to help out, but everyone returned to the club safely and on Saturday night the club was buzzing with tales of the day.
At the prizegiving the race organisers gave a special award for ‘exceptional seamanship’ to RS Feva sailors Harvey Leigh and Jonny Latham of Leigh and Lowton SC who happily sat on the top of their upturned boat on Saturday and told several different safety teams who approached them that they were OK and they should go to help others.
On Sunday, the course was set round the first island, Norfolk Island and in fresh winds, but much lighter than the day before, the fleet got away at the first start. The Lyons boys rounded the island first and were back to the club five minutes before the next boat. Their first place in race two won them the event and the Birkett silver salver as well as a special prize of bed and breakfast for two at the Sharrow Bay Hotel which is next to UYC.
Batchelor/ Weatherspoon of Tynemouth SC in a 505 were tenth on handicap and took second place overall with 11 points and Paul and Jude Allen of Leigh and Lowton SC in a RS400 were third, also with 11 points.
The celebration event was first raced in 1963 in honour of Lord Norman Birkett who died two days after making a successful speech in the House of Lords which prevented Ullswater from becoming a reservoir. Every year since then, the club has held the prestigious two-day long distance race in which boats sail the full length of the lake round an island, and back, in memory of the ‘Saviour of Ullswater.’
It has become a festival of sailing and so popular with racers from all over the country that the limit of 230 boats was reached before the weekend and entries were closed. Next year entry will be online only with no entries allowed on the day.
Ullswater Yacht Club would like to thank the following for help toward the fleet of safety boats necessary for the event. Loan of boats – Sharrow Bay Hotel, David Clarke, Patterdale Hall, Sunderland Yacht Club, Ocean Youth Trust (North); Boats complete with crews – Paul Colton, Seaham Divers & friends, Blackpool & Fleetwood SC. Also thanks to Kier Construction (loan of high visibility jackets). And thanks also to the hundreds of volunteer members of UYC, without them the event would not be possible.