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50 years of Laser/ILCA sailing at West Kirby Sailing Club

by Liz Potter 15 Jun 2023 11:14 BST
Busy start line at West Kirby SC in 2023 © Alan Jenkins

West Kirby celebrates 50 years of Laser racing with an Open Regatta for ILCA/Lasers.

When I bought my Laser/ILCA at the start of this sailing season, I had no idea what I was getting in to. I added the Laser to my collection of racing single-handers in response to the Tuesday Night Challenge; the night where around 25 Lasers congregate for pure Class racing on the Marine Lake at West Kirby Sailing Club during the summer months.

So, a Tuesday night toy it was. A few weeks in, I was hooked - not only by the close but very friendly racing in fairly confined waters, but by the awesome history of the Class at this venue.

Over the apres-racing beers at the bar, I learnt of the humble beginnings of this appealing little boat and the enthusiastic and skilful youths who took the boat through its paces on the very same waters and into the world-wide arena to compete at the highest level. Indeed, some of these youths are still amongst us today and continue to drive the class to its impressive levels of local participation.

2023 marks a milestone in the history of the Laser at West Kirby Sailing Club. It will be 50 years since the boat first arrived here. In 1973, five club members bought boats and a year later, five club members went on to compete in the European team racing championships in Rotterdam. There, they raced against 13 clubs from seven countries and won the event.

A year later, 20 Lasers were listed in the club handbook, the oldest being 5582 and the newest 12210. That meant the Laser production teams were turning out around 6,600 boats in 1973-4!

A year later there were 38 Lasers in the boat park; the newest being 21442. Another 9,200 boats built in the UK!

In the listings for 1974 were three new and significant names; Chris Maddock Gareth Owen and Richard Robinson. The three young sailors went on to win the European Laser Team Championships on two occasions and represented the UK in The World Team Championships in Bermuda. Richard Robinson went on to win the Laser Europeans, Scottish, Egyptian and UK Nationals over the following years.

These were the early days of Lasers and a receipt for Alan Jenkins' boat in 1974 came to a heady £250, plus an additional splurge of £35 for an extra sail, complete with battens and a bag. The early boats also had mahogany wood daggerboards and rudders and don't even get me started on the sailing kit! You can see from the photos how much the sport has come along! Who can remember the old 'K' country registration numbers?

As the class continued to grow, the regular Monday night racing, as it was then, was split into two divisions to accommodate the 40 plus boats on the water. The places in the top division were highly fought for, as the two lowest placed boats were swapped for the top two in the lower division at the end of each series. The apres-sail in those days involved quaffing champagne until the early hours, I am reliably told!

The class saw a decline in the mid-eighties, as the marine lake was closed for a re-build and the numbers upon re-opening had dropped to seven or eight boats. The class lost its club status and was moved to the general handicap fleet. Before long, the numbers were rebuilt and in 1996, Lasers were offered a new slot on the Tuesday nights.

By 2010, a new keen group of junior sailors entered the class, hot on the introduction of the smaller Radial rig. Home-grown champions Alex Jardine and Cam Douglas went on to compete at an international level.

Our current emerging youth star in the class is George Colquitt, who won the U17 National Championships last year and has been performing well on the open circuit this year so far. As well as supporting youth sailors, the club currently has six ladies sailing the boat with various rig sizes.

The last five years has seen a surge in Laser ownership and there are currently 58 boats listed in our 2023 handbook. As a nod to the success of the class at our club, West Kirby Sailing Club are holding an Open Laser/ILCA Regatta event on Saturday 8th July, to which visiting helms are very welcome. We plan to hold two races on the Marine Lake in the morning and two tidal races in the Dee estuary in the afternoon.

We are expecting a number of Laser legends from the past to sail, including Gareth Owen, Richard Robinson, Alan Jenkings, Mal Jones, Rob Graham and John Dixon.

A full social programme is planned and we hope for a good turnout to help us celebrate the extraordinary Laser/ILCA story. Come and be part of it!

For further information and booking in, please contact Rob Graham, class captain, or see the website for event details.

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