Steering a course for Bass Week
Last updated at 21:05, Thursday, 09 August 2012
Just 24 hours after watching Ben Ainslie achieve a nail-biting gold in the men’s finn class at the 2012 Olympics, I am getting my first taste of competitive sailing.
It’s Monday and I have been invited along to Bass Week, which is hosted by Bassenthwaite Sailing Club and is one of the most popular open events in the North of England.
It is held on Bassenthwaite Lake, which was sailed by a young Ben Ainslie, then aged 10, when it hosted the Optimist National Championships in 1987.
The club celebrated its diamond jubilee this year and Bass Week has been going almost as long.
The event, which is actually nine days long, attracts sailors from all over the country.
This year has 173 entries and around 400 people descending on the club and campsite.
Before the boats go out, Bassenthwaite Lake looks pretty calm compared with the seas around Weymouth where Ainslie won his medal, but after very little wind over the weekend I am told that conditions are picking up.
Around 100 boats in a number of different classes are taking part in The Luffing Cup race with the spectacular backdrop of Skiddaw, Little Man and Dodd capped by low clouds.
From a distance the boats could just be taking part in a leisurely sail around the lake and it is hard to see where the racing comes into it, but as you get up close the demands of the sport become much more obvious.
Competitors move around the often tiny boats at high speed, ducking and diving under the sail and leaning out over the water to regain their balance.
Their skill and agility is awe inspiring as they navigate the course and try to avoid a pile-up.
When one boat ends up on its side early in the race, one of its sailors doesn’t skip a beat before climbing onto the daggerboard to turn it back upright, hardly even getting wet.
Stephen Kirkpatrick, club commodore, attended his first Bass Week at just two weeks old and was enrolled in the club from birth by his parents.
He says that the number of entries for this year’s event have been good with a great range of boats, ages and abilities from beginners to world-class sailors.
Stephen, 40, of Branthwaite, near Workington, says: “There has been a brilliant atmosphere with the Olympics going on.
“The roar when Ben Ainslie won gold was pretty special and it has caused a nice buzz around the club.
“I think in general it will inspire people to have a go and I think it will leave a legacy. It is creating a really big buzz about the sport.”
One of the club’s own members, Mark Somerville, raced against Ainslie in national races at Torquay in 1999 and Abersoch in 2000.
Both men were sailing in Lazers, and Ben won on both occasions.
Mark, 34, is third in his class in Monday’s race in his one-man RS Vareo.
He says: “Bass Week is the whole package, good sailing and good social.
“I have been a member of the club as long as I can remember. I have sailed at a lot of places but I really enjoy it here and it is a very friendly club.”
It is easy to see why some people make the event their annual holiday, with the breath-taking scenery, exciting racing and a host of social events and activities for all ages.
Despite the hit-and-miss weather, the event guarantees fresh air, some serious exercise and the opportunity to meet and catch up with life-long friends.
Stephen says: “Bass Week has been growing the last few years and the financial crisis has helped in a way because people are more inclined to stay in this country.
“There is a couple from the North East who have come here every year for 40 years and I think people come back because it is a great atmosphere, very well raced and the setting definitely helps.
“We have had some problems with the weather this year – a couple of biblical downpours have caused some flash flooding – but everyone has mucked in and got on with it, with a bit of Dunkirk spirit.”
Watching the race from one of the committee boats I am dying to experience what it is like flying along in the wind, but I think I would last all of five minutes before my arms turn to jelly and I collapse from exhaustion.
I return to where I belong, on dry – albeit soggy – land and leave the sailing to the experts, but I can certainly say I will be watching the rest of the Olympic sailing much more intently from now on.
Bass Week continues today with the The John Peel Tankard race from 11am and a race for juniors, ladies and over-60s starting at 2.30pm.
Tomorrow and Sunday, saliors will be competing for The Cutty Sark Challenge Trophy, starting both days at 10.30am.
First published at 19:19, Thursday, 09 August 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk