Southport 24 Hour Race – a history

In 1961 the West Lancashire Yacht Club had a club room over the Victoria Baths on the promenade at Southport. It was a gracious oak-panelled room with leather upholstered chairs and a full-size billiard table. Beer was served in silver tankards. Any serious sailing was done on the sea off Southport pier or elsewhere. The Southport Sailing Club had a small hut situated on the promenade close to the  Marine Lake.

Both clubs sailed dinghies from that strange looking landing stage half way down the lake on the landward side. The lake extended from what is now that rather annoying spit jutting out from the promenade, along what is now the landward side of the islands, as far as the road bridge – rather smaller than it is today. Everything to seaward was sandhills and beach.

Later in the 1960’s the lake was extended and both clubs built premises where they are situated today. In 1967 Southport celebrated the centenary of its becoming a borough. As part of these celebrations, the West Lancs Yacht Club staged a 24-hour dinghy race, to be held on the Marine Lake, and invited all sailing clubs to participate, sailing Fireflies, Enterprises and GPs.

The Firefly class at the RWYC sent a team in 1967 and 1968. They had then had enough of that sort of thing and asked the GPs if they would field a team instead. This they did enthusiastically. They sent a team every year and enjoyed the sailing and camping very much, but never did very well in the race. The Fireflies were somewhat overwhelmed by the slightly larger GPs and Enterprises and were discontinued as a class a few years later.

In the early years the organisation of the race and the camping was rather hand-to-mouth. We camped in all sorts of strange places along the lake near the Southport club, and all the scoring was done manually. Identifying boats at night must have been difficult, as the fluorescent numbers used nowadays are a relatively recent innovation. On several occasions our logging of our boat’s progress differed from the club’s, and a deputation was sent to the race committee to put matters right.

As time went on the club really got its act together as the race was becoming the national event it is today with everything becoming much better organised. Today, the organisation of the event is superb in every respect, and many of the WLYC members are involved.

Camping was restricted to the land at the southern end of the lake, although until the new buildings arrived, the facilities there were uncomfortable in bad weather conditions.

Later the RWYC supported its team financially and encouraged members to support it. For a while two teams entered. The GP class was able to field some very able sailors and their final placings reflected this. On two occasions the ‘A’ team have achieved 5th place overall, our best result so far!

In addition to the racing the event is one big party. There is a disco or band playing in the large marquee each night, and loud music can be heard across the water as boats are sailing around the course. Huge quantities of beer are sold throughout the event. A grandstand is erected in front of the docking area so spectators can watch the crews changing over – a spectacle in a strong southerly! Many sailors go to the event to meet old friends even if not to sail. In windy weather gear damage is considerable and Leigh Dinghy Stores do a roaring trade from their tent.

The race now sails Larks and Fireflies as well as GPs and Enterprises, to encourage more university teams to enter.

The race has been held every year since 1967 with one exception. In 2000 the petrol crisis caused the club to cancel as it was thought many teams would not be able to attend owing to shortage of petrol. It is now an established national event in the dinghy sailing calendar, and has been attended by well over a hundred clubs from all over the country. Only three clubs have attended every year, and the RWYC is one of them. We hope this state of affairs will continue.