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The Lark class - a new perspective

by Tim Fells 22 Jun 10:13 PDT
Tim Fells and Jerry Eplett winning the Lark Nationals at Exe in 1997 © Champion

Twenty-four years ago, I hung up my Lark boots for what I thought would be the last time. I had enjoyed an incredible 20 years of Lark racing and socialising, beginning with my first experience of a National Championships as a Birmingham student. Along the way I had managed to scale to the top of the podium on three occasions, served as class chairman for a number of years and seen the class grow to become one of the top racing classes in the country.

I felt that the class and I could part on good terms and it was time to try my hand at some high performance, asymmetric sailing. The B14 beckoned and proved to be a special boat. The old adage is that one 'should never go back', so what was I doing not only turning up at the 2021 Lark Nationals at Rock but doing so in a boat I had bought rather than borrowed?

It is fair to say that the Lark, like many of the older classes, has been through some fallow times with racing numbers declining and minimal new builds. In 2017, we held a Masters championship at Salcombe to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the class's birth. Apart from catching up with a lot of old friends, the thing that stood out for me was just how enjoyable the Lark is to sail.

The Lark pedigree as a child of Mike Jackson's Merlin Rocket and National 12 designs of the time makes for a very responsive, nimble boat, one that gives continual feedback on how well you are sailing her and responds to every small adjustment. She is very much a feel boat that is rewarding to sail as the more you put in the more you get out. Having sailed Merlins for the last ten years, I was surprised just how much I enjoyed the Lark and while it would be wrong to compare them, the Lark can hold its head up, feeling anything but a boat from a different era.

Equally, the Lark is perfectly suited to restricted and tidal waters. Her fast-tacking qualities together with the ability to set the symmetric spinnaker on every angle from tight reach to square run makes her versatile and much better suited to these venues and typical courses than an asymmetric rigged boat. At my home club in Salcombe the ability to hug the banks on the run to escape the tide is a huge benefit. At inland clubs such as Frensham where the course has every conceivable sailing angle, the versatility is a winning recipe.

Having been reawakened to the inherent pleasure of sailing the Lark, I was also impressed by the build quality and layout of the modern boats. Boats are rigged in many different ways for options such as various crew sizes/ages (pole launchers) and raking rigs (for heavy weather sailing), although there are successful teams using simpler set ups and there is a choice between traditional Dacron or modern Mylar mainsails.

In summary, boats are extremely versatile but also look the part as a thoroughly up-to-date race boat. Hulls have been moulded by all the main dinghy specialists (Rondar, Ovington, Winder) which are strong and consistent, and the class is excitedly waiting for the launch of the new Synergy Marine hull from class stalwart Simon Cox.

Fuelled by how much I enjoyed the boat, my enthusiasm led me to take the plunge and invest in a secondhand Ovington boat with the intention of stimulating further interest at Salcombe where the class already enjoys a healthy turnout for Regatta Week in August. For obvious reasons all these plans were postponed for a year, so it was with much excitement that I entered the National Championships at Rock which would be one of the first major, post lockdown dinghy events in the UK.

So, what was my experience of returning after 24 years? Firstly, it is a very different event from the somewhat anarchic world of Lark sailing I was part of. It is a different era and the world has moved on. Many of the active members in the class have young families and the class has gone out of its way to ensure their needs are catered for, from family-friendly venues, to race schedules that allow time for family activities, to socials that keep the children and grandparents entertained. It clearly works, with both the first two teams overall being married couples with young children ashore.

My particular focus was whether I would be competitive and unsurprisingly I found I had a lot to (re)learn. The competition was tough with even small mistakes punished and it being hard to make ground up the fleet, just as it should be at a National Championships. My performance was characterised by starting well and then slowly falling back - some work to do on boat speed - but it was thoroughly enjoyable, close, tactical racing.

The number of entries may have dropped, due to Cornwall's accommodation being completely full, but those who made it to Rock clearly know what they are doing.

Overall, I was enthused about my old class. A great boat, very competitive racing and a friendly crowd, the Lark is a good option that will challenge and reward those who sail her. Club racing around the country needs an affordable, two-person, symmetric spinnaker boat to provide a pathway for juniors who are not pursuing the RYA ladder. Plenty of my old Lark chums have teenage children who I am sure would thoroughly enjoy the boat (with or without a parent!) and I would heartily recommend anyone interested to give it a go.

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