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The Lark class at 50: We speak to Class Chairman Nigel Scott

by Mark Jardine 4 Apr 13:15 BST 4 April 2017
The Lark class at 50 © Mark Jardine / YachtsandYachting.com

It's hard to believe that the Larks are celebrating their 50th Anniversary, but I found the class very much has its eyes on the future rather than reminiscing about past glories...

Mark Jardine: What have you got lined up for the circuit this year?

Nigel Scott: It's a big one for us. The highlight is the 50th Anniversary Championship down in Brixham on the 12th-15th August, which is a legendary venue for the Lark class, who have even been banned from there a couple of times! It's a fantastic venue for the sailing and off the water, so that will be a big championship and very important for us.

We're also taking part in the Carnac SMELT on 27th-30th May, which first took place in 2014 and involves the Scorpions, Merlins, Enterprises, Larks and (National) Twelves.

We also have a Masters Championship down in Salcombe on 18th October, which is being organised by Lark Master Tim Fells. Over the years a lot of top sailors have graduated from the Lark class, such as Ian Walker, and what we're trying to do is get as many of them back for an event down in Salcombe, and of course have a big social.

Mark: As well as looking back on the last 50 years, and the sailors who've been involved in the Lark class, and the university team racing that has taken place in the class, you very much have an eye to the future on your 50th anniversary. What are you doing to increase participation, not just in Larks but in sailing itself?

Nigel: We think historically the Lark has been very successful; 10 or 20 years ago we had 120 boats at the Nationals, but if we're honest 30-40 boats is now what we're achieving. Club turnouts are still strong, but the Lark class and the whole of open meeting sailing have a problem.

That's why we want our 50th Anniversary to be able to look forward, not backwards, using the anniversary as a way to get some changes through. We want to head towards shorter course championships; we think one of the problems sailing has is that it's an all-weekend sport and increasingly we lead busier and busier lives, so something short and sharp is appealing. We've lost more people to sports like cycling and going to the gym, than people to other classes, so what we want to do is make it much more attractive that way.

The other thing the Lark class has always been renowned for is the social side and we think the combination of short, sharp races, good socials, and also training, will attract people to the events. We have an extremely high standard at the top of the fleet, but it's about bringing the next set of sailors through and investing in training will help with that. We think concentrating on these three areas will help the class and sailing over the next 50 years.

Mark: The Lark class have had a strong relationship with GJW Direct over a number of years. How does this support help the class?

Nigel: It helps us massively. We can only do what the funds of the members and all of our work can contribute, and the sponsorship from GJW Direct has allowed us to advertise what we're trying to do to a wider audience. We work very closely with them in how we promote the website, we're all wearing clothing that is sponsored by them, and they sponsor our prizes and training events. The sponsorship they provide allows us to reach a much greater number of people inside and outside of the class than we would do normally.

Mark: Are you going to be using those funds to attract the youth sailors, who are maybe moving out of the youth classes and coming into adult racing, and also trying to attract back some of the sailors who have maybe fallen out of the sport?

Nigel: Traditionally where the Lark attracted most sailors was universities, because these universities had Larks for their team racing. That link has pretty much gone, so we are now looking to reach out to young sailors who have finished with the youth programme and who might otherwise drop out of sailing. We hope they can be retained in the sport by joining a class which is more challenging than a youth boat, is cheap to sail and can be sailed anywhere. Just as importantly, the Lark is very sociable because it is two-handed and is suited to a range of weights, ages and sexes. We work with clubs such as Frensham and Waldringfield by holding trial days. We are also looking to work with youth classes such as Mirrors and Cadets – for instance by holding our Open Meetings alongside theirs - so that they can see the attractiveness of the class.

We are also always looking for crews - so bringing crews through and then asking them if they'd like to have a go helming - and through this we've brought many sailors who started crewing in boats and are now helms within the Lark fleet, who in turn are bringing their youth sailor friends with them. It's not easy as there are 'sexier' classes which aren't 50 years old, but what we offer in the Lark is something that is very compelling for youth sailors.

Mark: It's great to see a class that has an eye to the future instead of reminiscing about the past.

Nigel: Having a 50th Anniversary for a class can have as many negatives as positives, but for us it was all about what we can do differently for the next 50 years. The boat suits both male and female sailors and you can sail them anywhere from ponds and lakes, to rivers and the sea and it's still very lively and exciting.

Mark: Thank you very much for your time Nigel. I'm looking forward to following the Larks over the next 50 years.

Nigel: Thank you very much.