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Bala Long Distance Race - event 9 in the Great British Sailing Challenge

by Andy Rice 24 Jun 13:05 PDT 22-23 June 2019
Bala Long Distance Race 2019 © Tim Olin /

Light to moderate - and wildly shifty - breezes on Lake Bala played to the strengths of the RS400s who dominated the results at the Bala Long Distance, part of the Great British Sailing Challenge.

Richard Catchpole & Gary Coop led the charge of the RS400s and won the Bala Long Distance, latest event in the Great British Sailing Challenge. Recent weeks have seen a perfect Force 3 to 4 south-westerly blowing along the length of Lake Bala, set in the Snowdonia National Park. But as the windy (and rainy) weather disappeared over recent days, at least the sunshine came out for the four-hour long distance race on the opening Saturday of the regatta.

In total, 61 boats from 38 classes signed up for the weekend, with a huge array of craft lined up to race each other under the Great Lakes handicap numbers. Boats as diverse as Toppers to the International Moth, multihulls and sportsboats all came to do compete against each other on the lake. Many boats were crewed by family members, taking part in the Generation Game, the competition being encouraged within the Great British Sailing Challenge.

Principal Race Officer John Burgoine set a course that used the whole 3.5 miles of the lakes's length for the marathon race on Saturday. The breeze was so fickle, however, that discerning the wind direction at any given moment was proving difficult. What little prevailing breeze there was, found itself in a battle with local land breezes being thermally generated at the side of the lake. This meant that boats were beating towards both ends of the lake, with a mushy, swirly mess of light air in the middle.

Over the 5.2 nautical mile course, the biggest distance covered was by Dave Walker & Chris Cooke's Nacra 20 catamaran, which notched up 23 nautical miles around four laps of the course in the four hours of racing. However, the winners on handicap were Dave Exley & Nige Hall, proven champions of the long distance format having raced their RS400 to victory four times at the legendary Lord Birkett Trophy which takes place on Ullswater Reservoir every summer. Behind Exley & Hall were five other RS400s who seemed to be in their element, able to fly the gennaker on some of the close reaches and able to tack their way effectively through the ever-shifting breeze.

Behind the RS400 armada, two Javelins finished in seventh and eighth, the only trapeze boats to make the top ten. First cat was Paul and Jude Allen's Nacra 18 in 19th place. For families who wanted to follow the action, they took the steam train that runs alongside the lake and which offered a grandstand view of the racing.

The Saturday evening's BBQ was a welcome opportunity to relax and replenish after the rigours of the four-hour race, and when local band Face Value turned up later in the evening, everyone hit the dance floor. The summery weather couldn't have been more perfect for an evening of fun, food and entertainment.

On Sunday, the sunshine had gone but at least the breeze showed up for three back-to-back average lap races. With the breeze blowing Force 2 to 3 but with some occasional Force 4 gusts, the sailors were kept on their toes and again the random conditions suited the relatively stable RS400s. However, Colin & Oly Murray's Norfolk Punt came good for the final race, taking the win ahead of the 400s.

In terms of overall scores though, the RS400s won the day, with Catchpole & Coop joined on the podium by Chris Pickles & Mark Lunn and Jon Heissig & Nicky Griffin.

However frustrating the lack of breeze on the Saturday, the rain never materialised until the sailors were driving out of Bala after the prize-giving. It had been a challenging but rewarding weekend of fun competition and a great social event too.

The next two events of the GBSC take place in August at Plymouth and Ullswater. Find out more and get your entry in at

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