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British DN Ice Yacht Champs at Leigh & Lowton Sailing Club

by Gareth Rowland 1 Jan 2011 23:31 PST 8-9 December 2010

Probably the best way to describe ice sailing in the United Kingdom is 'Patience, Patience' - not easy with keen ice sailors. Probably the most extreme sailing you can do, a yacht designed in 1937 made of wood and resin with top speeds of 70 mph, no brakes and raced in sub zero temperatures.

The waiting bit... Britain had the coldest late November/ December on record, for K11, Gareth Rowland living on the East Coast of Lincolnshire was watching the weather like a hawk. We had too much snow on the east coast, inland at Lincoln and the wolds, our hills, the sub zero temperatures reached double figures, great for getting some ice on lakes but the snow showers kept coming in covering any ice, also making road travel difficult. We even had thunder and lightening in a snow storm, amazing! The rest of the north and west of the UK was very cold, for at least at a week, so the hunt for good ice was on.

The problem with the UK is someone owns something. Any lake or area of water belongs to some one so getting any kind of contact with the appropriate person is very hard, especially as most cannot get to work because of the snow and ice. Phones go unanswered, Emails get returned 'out of the office' so we were very happy to make contact with Leigh & Lowton Sailing club who run a winter sailing program. Neil Marsden (K10) had ice sailed at the club last year, so we knew the lake.

Leigh and Lowton Sailing Club is just North west of Manchester, google maps will find it as Pennington Flash, I think the lake is an old mine that has flooded and subsided making the present lake. An almost rectangular lake almost a mile east to west and a third of a mile north to South and maybe relatively shallow - that may be why it freezes well. Any other larger deeper lakes will not freeze and add our variable british weather and you find you are limited to only a few lakes that freeze safely.

So the scene was set, cold weather, little snow west of the Pennines, for us on the East side of the Pennines it was snow, snow and more snow making road travel very, very difficult. The weekend of the 4/5 December was the favoured date. Ice reports came in Friday of three inches of good ice with cold nights of -12c. Day temperatures not above 0c. So it looked good. But the wind!! Need I say freezing fog! The forecast was for no wind on Saturday and Sunday with very cold nights. The phones were busy as we tried to arrange the first ever British Ice Sailing Championships. By Friday night we agreed to postpone the Championships as the prospect of sitting on a frozen lake that was sailable with not a breath of wind was unbearable.

The weather forecast was for some wind on Thursday but bringing rising temperatures. So the scene was set; travel to Pennington Flash Wednesday, set up and race the British Championships Thursday 9th December. The problem was the wind would bring warmer temperatures, better for those snow and ice bound but not for us, so the sailing window was very narrow.

Wednesday: K11 managed to pack the DN K11 and the Class three ice yacht. Getting out of Lincolnshire was a steady trip as the roads were only just passable after last week's snow storms, the only way was over the M62, thankfully snow free, the further west you went the less the snow, so by the time I was at Pennington Flash at 2.30pm there was virtually no snow.

Neil Marsden was already on the ice with his yacht and his dad's, so I unloaded and set up. Within 30 minutes K11 was on the ice sailing, The ice was over four inches thick and strong, so we had a good blast around the lake. Neil's second ice yacht was skippered by Johnny McGovern an instructor and experienced 470 water sailor. Johny had a quick lesson from Neil how ice yachts work and away he went.

Later the three yachts set up a ad-hoc circuit, little realising we were actually racing the first ever heat of a National Championship. The wind was light from the NW but we clocked 32 mph in the race, maybe five to six times the wind speed. Neil had an earlier problem as in his training he broke his mast and the front runner was not the sharpest. K11 won the race on the downwind runs. I had tell-tales on the sail but lacked a wind pointer, Neil had a wind pointer but no tell tales, plus Neil's house mouse had a little nibble to the luff of his sail. I managed to sail fast across the wind then point deep downwind watching the tell tales all the way.

Three laps later we finished for a welcome coffee. By now the wind dropped of so we called it a day very happy with a few hours sailing on a British lake. K11 booked in a hotel one mile from Pennington Flash and tried to connect to the internet only to find the server was down!

Thursday: by now the local radio and TV had caught wind of the story and all were set to come and talk and film us on what might become a historic regatta, but the weather had a twist. 6.30am it was -5c, by 7am I thought the frost had gone from the cars outside my hotel, no, it was rain! Then the skies cleared and It promptly froze on any surface, luckily my Land Rover 90 is winterised with a pre-heater and heated screen. Everyone else was scraping ice off their windscreens like mad. Worse still were the roads as the rain caused black ice on busy rush hour roads. Result... a 40 car pile up and chaos on the main roads and motorways. I left the hotel only to be told the main East Lancashire road was closed and you could see long tail backs on every road. It took me 45 minutes to travel one mile. At the lake K11 set up and was told the local BBC Radio would not be coming as they were stuck in Traffic. Neil was also stuck in the huge traffic jam on the M6 that made national headlines. He arrive 90 minutes late, but at least safe.

This was the day we had a wind forecast of 12 to 15 mph from the NW, what did we have, Zero mph! With three yachts rigged, set, ready to go, we busied ourselves with yacht tuning and comparing. Just before The BBC TV turned up a light NW finally plucked up. We had a quick cruise round on the ice as the TV cameras set up. Then we performed for the cameras and decided on a course and had a race in a little more wind. Neil's sailing partner Johny McGovern did well on the down wind beating Neil into third place.

The next race we had was almost across the wind using two white balls on an anti-clockwise course. K11 was wired up by the BBC to get some sound of us sailing on ice, K11 was also asked to provide a commentary. Neil was faster upwind as he tried K11's loaned polish bandy mast. With an internal mast stiffener it looked like this would be very good for Neil's weight. See the pictures. Time was about PM and the temperature was rising with a hazy sun, the lake changed to having a fine layer of water on the ice, also the fine cracks were opening up. As we sailed some more, the ice was fast but the top layer was getting softer and we were slopping about in an inch of water at the pits.

We decided to call it a day as the clouds were building and the light going. We packed up in light rain, very happy we had sailed and raced on an English lake a few hours on Wednesday and Thursday with out mishaps. Perhaps we may have not done the racing by the book but we were all happy to call it the first Nationals.

In Britain I think any ice-sailing will be at short notice, so getting good ice and people with the time to race will always be difficult, also we were very wary of the fact if we did announce it in advance there might be too many spectators.

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