Brilliant Bala - Long Distance Dinghy Race in Wales

Two Weta made the journey to compete

June 26th, 2023

I always enjoy travelling in to Wales, and this trip was to take part in the annual Long Distance Dinghy Race Weekend at Bala Sailing Club.

With what can only be described as interesting forecasts for the weekend, with a mix of wind conditions and the occasional thunderstorm thrown into the mix this was going to be a great first visit to an event that had been on the radar for a few years.

The entry list was like reading the RYA PY list with a huge range of classes represented - GP14 to SB20, Laser Radial to F101 foiler..... and then there were two Wētā dinghies who travelled to sample what was on offer. Just to make things confusing for the locals both helms were called Steve - Steve T from Yorkshire & Steve H from Oxfordshire.

Saturday -

The course was to be windward leeward (basically a top mark so far up the lake you couldn't see it from the club house) and a bottom mark set halfway across the lake between the club house and the village.

Race start was 1pm for an approximate race length of 3 hours, do as many laps as possible with average lap times corrected to PY to find the winner.

The start line was a crowded affair with 42 boats taking part and positioning the Wētā appropriately was going to be key. Steve T was somewhere in the mix but holding back a little just to stay safe. Meanwhile Steve H had mistakenly thought the hooter sounded a warning sound for the impending countdown, only to realise that was in fact the start of the three minutes, so his timing and positioning wasn't great as he was stuck somewhere below the Pin end, so simply going for the line and clear air (if that's possible in a fleet this size) was going to be the best option.

As it turns out, the conditions at the start were perfect for the Wētā and with the breeze around 15 knots and flat water Steve H found himself a nice lane to leeward and was flying along making up positions after the bad start.

The fleet quickly spread out across the lake with everyone trying to sail the best line to carry their first tack as far as possible up the lake.

However, this is lake sailing in a valley and there were some good/bad and down right ugly knocks to be found on the way to the first mark. Keeping your eyes out of the boat and watching what was going on ahead paid dividends if you acted promptly - and then other times it was simply a gamble to tack or not.

At the end of the first outward leg the two Wētā were holding their own and as they rounded the bouy it was time to unleash the screecher……

The first down wind blast had moments of ‘woohoo’ followed by moments of ‘where has the wind gone’ followed by more moments of ‘woohoo’!

Steve H was the first Wētā around the mark followed a minute or two later by Steve T.  About half way down the course Steve H looked out behind to see Steve T approximately 20 boat lengths behind but fully powered up and flying, he was on the move and was going considerably quicker than those around him, and it looked great! He soon overtook Steve H before falling into a hole and leaving the two Wētā rounding the bottom mark only a few boat lengths apart.

Over the next 2 laps positions changed based on where you were on the lake and whether you scored a header or a footer, but it was a whole lot of fun.

After completing 3 laps in a rapidly dying breeze and having sailed approximately 18-19 miles Steve H (19th) held off Steve T (28th) and positioned both Wētā somewhere midfleet on corrected time.

The day ended with an amazing BBQ and social in the club where we dutifully sampled some of the local bitter and watched some of the forecast thunderstorms rolling up the lake before heading back to the campsite.

Sunday -

What a glorious morning after a night of thunder/lightning and a whole lot of rain.

Unfortunately all the breeze had vanished and Bala Lake was like a mirror.

Would there be racing or not, and on top of that there were more electrical storms forecast for the area not long after lunch. This is a Race Officers worst nightmare - sailors wanting to race, little to no wind (and what wind there was it kept changing direction).

Race briefing was announced and we were told there would be a delay to the start and any racing would be shortened as they didn’t want a fleet of boats out on the lake when the next round of thunderstorms rolled in.

As if by magic, and with only a 15min delay the Sunday race got underway. The top mark had been moved and the course length was about a third as far as the day before. There was breeze but it was shifty and light meaning the beat to the top mark was a test. Once around the mark the screecher was again deployed and the aim was to carry it as far as possible, which was about half way down the course. At this point I discovered the lake was “tidal”! Some might beg to differ but as the wind completely died the now stationary boats spread across the lake certainly appeared to be going backwards. After 5-10 minutes the breeze filled in but had swung 150 degrees and made what was a good blast home into a tight fetch. And that was it - a one lap dash to finish with a toot.

Steve H finished Sunday’s race in 11th while Steve T decided not to race in favour of becoming James Bond and taking a bevvy of beauties out for a sail on his yacht before packing up for the trip home.

Final positions for the weekend -

Steve H, 15th

Steve T, 34th

Massive thanks to the Bala SC Race Officers for getting us racing despite testing conditions and all the volunteers in the kitchen/bar/rescue boats.

It was decided by both Steve’s that it should be in the diary again next year - we hope to see a few more Wētā there to enjoy this great Welsh event.

We stayed at the Pen-Y-Bont Campsite which is a five minute walk from the clubhouse and has to be one of the nicest campsites I’ve stayed at.

2023 Bala SC Long Distance Weekend results can be seen here.

By Steve Harvey

Racing to the first mark

Sailing Downwind

Bala Lake

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