South Staffs Burgee
South Staffordshire Sailing Club
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The Larks at SSSC

The 2010 Lark season at South Staffs.

Although the club sails throughout the year, it is usually March and the South Staffs Open Meeting weekend before things really get going. This year was no exception and a great turnout of both home boats and visitors ensured a great event. It probably also set the tone for those in the club that would challenge for the M&NRC. As the end of year results proved it was John & Sue Billington and myself that did the travelling, to finish first & second in the series.

So what was going on at the club? One of the most popular series through the year is the Tuesday evening PY race. Always well attended by all fleets, the Lark is always well placed mainly thanks to the consistency of John & Sue. Sunday is the big sailing day with two Class races in the afternoon. With a Lark fleet always putting out between 6 & 12 boats, the competition is always strong and it is rare for anyone to dominate the series. Will Croxford & Chris Warburton are usually challenged by Chris White & Nic Booth on the water but then Mike Moscardi with his new crew Tracy Hitch, like the lighter conditions and are always able to throw in some top results. Mark Nichols is often fighting hard with Roy Alexander and Mike Owen in his new Ovi, all of who try to lead in the next group with various degrees of success! Infact one of the great things about the club racing is that you never know who will be on form and how you will get on during the day.

To add an incentive to the racing, a personal handicap (PH) system operates throughout all classes. Jon Meekes won many of the Lark trophies in 2009 but he has started his own business, which often requires him to work at weekends. So with his changing handicap and lack of time on the water the results are wide open for 2010. There are several different series during the year: Spring; Summer; Winter and Frostbite, so if it is difficult to qualify for one series, there is always another just around the corner. On top of these, there are one day trophies which include PY, class and some PH, so there are again plenty of options to cater for everyone's taste and availability.

What makes a strong fleet at any club? It has to be a reasonable number of active sailors with a wide range of ability. The Lark fleet at South Staffs now enjoys that situation and as a result everyone has great racing. Believe it or not I have been the greatest traveller this year, attending most of the M&NRC events! Most of the top club sailors enjoy the big events and many were seen at the Nationals but have yet to break into the front of the Gold Fleet.

In many ways the highlight of the year was the Club performance at the Southport 24 hour race. Although 2010 saw a top team of current and former GP sailors go all out for a win, the South Staffs Teams in both a GP and a Lark proved that they have huge strength in depth. Mike & Liz Senior were supported by the likes of Ed Bradburn & Chris White to be second overall in a GP and John & Sue; Will Croxford; Chris Warburton; Adam Parry; Eleanor Davies and Connie Hicklin all showed their speed and flexibility to bring the South Staffs Lark home in 3rd place.

Eleanor & Connie again went to Southport to contest the GP Youths which unfortunately clashed with the Lark Youths at Fishers Green. However, with a little persuasion Sam Blocksidge & Adrian Walker represented the club in the Hicklin Lark and finished a creditable 3rd after a hard day sailing. All these are names that have great talent and I am sure we and perhaps you, will see more of in the future!

As for 2011? Well come to our Open Meeting in March to see what we are up to! You will see lots of enthusiasm, a great deal of talent and it will be a great way to kick off the season.

Building a strong Lark fleet at South Staffs
How is it that South Staffs SC has become one of the strongest Lark Class fleets in the country? The Lark is certainly the envy of many non builder fleets, which is a far cry from where I understand it was a few years ago. The enthusiasm of the Association has had a lot to do with it and the teams who created the drive to introduce the new deck layout by Rondar. More importantly, not changing the basic boat speed in the process, has been the real bonus that has ensured all boats can stay competitive.

There is no doubt that South Staffs has one huge advantage over almost any other club. We have a very restricted number of classes and run class racing every Sunday, with no menagerie fleet. However, the club has always been like that in its 50 year history but it is only in the last 10 years that the Lark has seen a substantial increase in numbers. I cannot tell you specifically why but I can tell you what we have been doing.

Training can also have a very positive effect on the fleet. Most people want to improve and some will often attend a training session where they feel supported rather than on a race day. It is also important to make it clear the standard you are aiming to help as beginners find it a turn off if they don't understand or cannot perform to the level of the group. Different groups on different days works well and this does not have to be often. Two or three sessions a year is all we arrange specifically for Larks but again we are fortunate in that Wednesday evenings in the summer are used for training and practise for any club members.

Communication is vital. Tell the fleet members what is going on at the club. How many are sailing. What fun it has been and when there are any social events (it helps if these are for all the club members) and if they attend, then do talk to them. Actually talking to people is so important whether at the club or at Open Meetings. Who wants to go somewhere and have no one speak to you? If you are new to a club or fleet the welcome you receive will dictate whether you stick it out or try another club, fleet or even sport!

Encourage the youngsters in the club. Again South Staffs is very lucky in that we have lots of support from members who give their time to encourage kids onto the water. At first this is just familiarity but it progresses to race coaching and then to competition. They can be a source of crews but also future candidates for the class. Best of all it brings fresh blood into the club and provides really flexible sailors that can turn their hand to any class and any task. In the end this also provides great inspiration to new members. People love to see youngsters doing something they enjoy with passion and skill.

The Larks have gained from this by having a club Lark available for youngsters and indeed new members, to use when they want. We do allow junior members to qualify for a series in a club boat although this is not available to adults. The maintenance of this club boat is the only arduous task as someone has to oversee and monitor it's condition. To be frank I have taken on this role as I enjoy doing it and believe that keeping it competitive ensures use and gives an incentive to those considering the class.

Just as at Open Meetings, a small nucleus of enthusiasts attracts others to join in. However the established membership must talk to and encourage those they meet, to come to the next event. If they have fun they will. South Staffs is a small friendly club with very little class separation. So we all talk to each other and people drift to the class they like sailing and friendships cross all classes.