Your roving reporter before the start on Saturday. Photo Copyright Paul Hargreaves

On the 2nd and 3rd July just 1 week after the UK Nationals and with most of the fleet still recovering 6 D-Zeros were entered for the Lord Birkett races at Ullswater. This is a bucket list event for many sailors and I was fortunate enough to have an understanding wife who would let me go away for 2 weekends in a row sailing.

The event had achieved the maximum entry of 230 boats and with a start line the full width of Ullswater choosing the right place was going to be key.

So on arrival and after boats were unpacked and tents set up the Birkett virgins headed off to the clubhouse to speak to the more seasoned people who may be able to offer some useful advice. The overwhelming advice was that, for the forecast wind direction, heading into Sharrow Bay before tackling the Narrows was the best advice. Beyond that it was a case of pick a shift or sail until your legs or arms needed a break and then tack. With the advice duly noted we headed off to the beer tent where many a pint was consumed until the early hours of the morning. At breakfast it was clear that at least 3 members of the fleet were feeling a little worse for wear from the previous night with one of them being unable to move too far from the facilities of the clubhouse.

In the end with 1 person electing to not travel, 1 unable to venture too far from the clubhouse 4 of us took to the water. The wind at the start area was a good strength not shifting around hugely and definitely not giving any hint of what was to come! After the requisite 2 recalls (the second under black flag) we got away at the 3rd attempt. I had my trademark rubbish start about mid line near Russ with Jon electing to start on the western shore and Ben further down nearer the clubhouse but sporting a Blue rig.

As we headed up toward Sharrow Bay and the start of the narrows Ben was heard to be lamenting having ‘the wrong sail’ up as the wind got lighter and lighter as we approached (and not in Sharrow Bay, the previous nights advice long since ignored). As we progressed through the Narrows and looked ahead up the lake it was clear that the wind further up was much stronger than outside the club. With the wind increasing and the waves starting to build it became very clear that just completing the course was going to be an achievement as capsized boats were littering the racecourse and the safety boats had their hands full. As I approached Silver Point the wind had gone past breezy, through epic and well in to the apocalyptic section of the scale. At this point serious thoughts were given to turning round and heading back. However the welcome sight of the leading boats coming back strengthened my resolve that the lighter winds near Cherry Holm were close at hand and as I was going to have to sail back anyway I may as well make it worth it.

What was also welcome was the sight of Ben in his blue rig still behind me (showing just how good the grey rig is in heavy airs) and Jon not too far ahead of me. By this point Russ was long gone and the chance of catching him seemed slim.

Approaching Cherry Holm Jon got stuck in a patch of light wind and some luck came my way with my own personal wind carrying me up to the island and round it. As I was thinking about grabbing a quick bit to eat and having a drink after the long slog upwind the wind soon gave me other ideas by blowing hard, just for me again, and I took off and quickly passed Jon and was also treated to the sight of a D-One in full flight with his kite up (and looking rather worried as head heading straight for an island). Staying in the lake a little way kept me in some wind much to Jons dismay, right up tpo the point where I decided to sample the chill waters of Ullswater just after Norfolk Island. After a few minutes of swimming I got the boat up and set off again trying to find a sweet sdpot as the win quickly built as I approached the narrows. Running definitely didn’t work and another swim quickly followed. The technique seemed to be reach as deep as you dare steering through the waves and coming up on to a beam reach when it really blew hard.

This stood me in good stead and by the time I reached the end of the narrows Ben and Jon were a long way back and i could just about see Russ in the distance. this time there was no light patch past the Narrows and big gusts were there to be used to get back down to Waterfoot. As the mark got closer and closer so did Russ. As I got to him i could see his kicker has decided to let go which seriously slowed him down on the long downwind leg. I caught him just after the gybe at Waterfoot and overtook on the reach to Eusmere. there then followed the ‘short’ upwind leg to the finish back at the club (short is relative, it was probably longer than the beat on most club courses). With arms and legs screaming enough the welcome sight of the finish line came in to view. Russ had dropped back enough for me to concentrate on getting to the line and the finish hooter was the most welcome sound I had heard all day.

Back on shore there were tales of many boats retreating from the narrows, lots of boat abandoned in the narrows and a few reports of damage (notably a Fireball with a crew shaped hole in the sail). the words epic and apocalyptic were being used freely to describe the conditions. Once safely back ashore and changed it was time to review the results. 36th for myself out of 81 finishers was a very pleasing result and all 4 D-Zeros that started made it to the finish. Overnight it was myself in 36th followed by Russ in 38th, Jon was 47th, Ben 58th and Dave DNS. Happily Dave was feeling a lot better so hopes were for a full fleet turnout the following day.

Ben Ratcliffe takes class honours on Sunday. Photo Copyright Paul Hargreaves

It was a more subdued fleet that gathered in the clubhouse that evening. thoughts of partying the night away were soon forgotten as, after a few beers, we all headed off hoping for a lighter day on Sunday.

Sunday dawned and when i woke i found myself unable to move. The conditions had clearly broken me so my sailing was sadly over for the weekend.

An early trip to the clubhouse for breakfast was called for and the fleet met up. Clearly I was bottling it after my stellar performance the previous day but with a 4 1/2 hour drive home and no painkillers nearby I decided that discretion was definitely the batter part of valour so set about packing away whilst the others got ready to launch.

Surprisingly the fleet got away at the first time of asking and it was soon very clear that the club end of the line was the end to start with the early leaders coming from there. The D-Zeros were scattered from mid line over to the far shore with Jon being the furthest across and losing out initially. After the race I am told that the D-Zeros did their usual trick of all congregating in the same area of water and having their own personal battle until after the narrows where the wind became light and patchy meaning there was some fragmentation. Dave made the best of this and by the time they came back in to view from the narrows he had a handy lead over Ben who had taken the advice of his fleet mates and put a grey sail up for the day. Dave looked good until they reappeared back from Pooley Bridge where had been hampered but other boats which allowed Ben to sneak through and take class honours. Russ came home 3rd in class with Jon some way back in 4th.

Russ Hopkins takes class honours. Photo Copyright Paul Hargreaves

When the race results had been processed Ben came out at 38th, Dave at 39th, Russ 55th and Jon 81st with me DNS. With those results Russ had done enough for first in class and claimed 37th overall with Ben 41st, Jon 53rd, myself 93rd and Dave 94th. A great result for the fleet on a course which is not really suited to a boat without a spinnaker. I was left ruing what might have been.

A great weekend was had by all in the fleet and it is definitely a bucket list event and a personal sailing challenge, especially if it is windy.

Finally, on behalf of the D-Zero fleet thanks to Ullswater YC for organising a great event and congratulation to Ullswater YC 49er sailors Matty and James Lyons who, after many years of near misses, finally landed their first Birkett win carrying a 2,1. A very popular winner by all accounts.

For a great photo album of the event by Paul Hargreaves click here. Thanks also to Paul for allowing us to use his photos.

For full results click here.