Coming up on the first weekend in July (5th and 6th) is the yearly Birkett event at Ullswater Yacht Club. The club’s most prestigious event attracting entries of over 200 boats and is voted number eight in the world’s top 50 regattas by Yachts & Yachting. It comprises 2 races, both of which cover the full 9 mile length of the lake. It is one of the most important races in the Yachting calendar and attracts visitors from all over the country.

Have a read of our last years adventure participating in the Birkett!

On the 6th and 7th of July 2013 in Ullswater there was an event unlike any other. The Birkett is a race held every year in the Lake District in honour of Lord Birkett the saviour of Ullswater. Our boss, otherwise known affectionately as Señor Peligro (another story, for another day), and his brother took part in the race to try out some of our sunglasses. Their boat of choice was a recently acquired 2nd hand RS800, although after sailing a Dart 16 for more than 10 years, they were not yet used to, as Señor Peligro stated ‘the dynamically unstable’ handling characteristics of their boat. This at least provided good entertainment for anyone watching from the shore line.

Start of the Birkett Sailing Race and advice on sunglasses for sailing

Some background information on the Birkett so you can get your bearings: Lord Birkett (1883 - 1962) was a Grammar School educate boy who went on to have a distinguished career as a barrister (including being an alternate judge at the Nuremberg Trials 1945-1946). After a career in Politics in 1958 he gained a position in the House of Lords and it was here that he helped save Ullswater so it can be enjoyed by all today.

In 1961, the Manchester Corporation Waterworks Department promoted a bill to turn Ullswater into a reservoir. This would have been a disaster for the area and future generations as the plan would have stopped any activities taking place on the Lake. Lord Birkett started up a campaign to fight the bill and on the 8th February 1962 he stood up in the House of Lords and made a heartfelt speech condemning the proposal. The bill was subsequently defeated as a consequence of Lord Birkett’s direct intervention. Tragically, 2 days after making this speech, Lord Birkett died never knowing the impact he had made for the people of Ullswater.

At the Birkett. The importance of sunglasses for sailing

So on the 6th of July with a forecast of good wind and some sunshine, 211 boats of all shapes, sizes and variety (from 49ers to single sail canoes - yep that’s right they exist) were rigged and ready to set their sails for the 14 mile race. But out of all these participants and boats there were none like the RS800, Señor Peligro, and his brother that day.

At the start of the race they deliberately stayed back from the starting line, setting themselves a high goal of participation rather than prize winning. It wasn't long before they realised they hadn't tied the jib properly when rigging the boat and had to turn into wind to fix the problem. Both of these combined to increase the distance between them and the next boat.

One piece of equipment that they excelled with was of course there eyewear. We decided since they were going anyway that Señor Peligro and his brother should test out some of our stock so we could give better advice to customers. They tested the new Julbo Wave J4428011 brought out this year and the well-established Bolle Anaconda. This was mainly due to their ability to float where other lesser sunglasses would sink. Both pairs of sunglasses have floatable frames and the Bolle even has a floatable headband. Combined with theirpolycarbonate shock resistant lenses, we figured if any sunglasses could handle a day on the water with Señor Peligro it would be one of these. Let me tell you I have direct confirmation that they can. They were tried and tested while capsizing over 20 times during their 5 hour race. Both pairs of sunglasses survived the ordeal despite being flung in all directions during their ‘capsize practice’ as Señor Peligro advised.

Preparing for the Birkett sailing race wearing Julbo sunglasses

As for optics they both turned out to be perfect in that department too. As any sailor will tell you, a beautiful day is great for sailing. But to every Yin there’s a Yan. When the sun’s shining it hits the surface of the water creating glare. Julbo and Bolle’s Polarized and flash/ Mirror Coating lenses are perfect for outwitting glare and reducing overall light. Unfortunately, this meant they couldn’t claim their poor performance on temporary blindness.

After hours of battling the wind, the water and the boat itself, they finished the race last and an hour later than everyone else. Well at least they completed it, much to the consternation of the last safety boat crew who at one point offered to tow them across the finish line. They felt this was quite an achievement considering 14 boats retired early from the race - I think these must have been the canoes.

Birkett Sailing race results meeting

It was important to keep their ego’s held high, so with pride Senor Peligro's brother turned to him and said, “We might have been last, but at the end of the day, no one took over us.”

Their late arrival was witnessed by all the members of the club and everyone else who had come to watch the race. Beaten, battered and bruised the two dragged their boat up the slipway back to its resting place, where the crowd gave them a British consolation "at least you tried" cheer. The commodore took to the tannoy to add, loudly, his remarks into the throng of applause. “Congratulation to the RS800 for completing the race......... however you have been disqualified for not signing in”.

What to look for when choosing sailing sunglasses?

Polarising Lenses best for sailing sunglasses

Wouldn't it be useful to have a pair of sunglasses which would not only be able to see obstructions under the surface of the water but at the same time reduce glare and eyestrain from reflections from the waters surface? Well we have a solution! Polarised lenses are our no.1 recommended choice for water sports activities. They do exactly as listed above and also helps to sharpen your field of vision.

Grey or Brown Tinted sunglasses for sailing

Whether you decided to go for a tinted polarised lens or a plain tint it is very important to consider the colour of the lens. If you want to minimise colour distortion and have the strongest protection from the brightest sunlight then a grey tint would suit you best. Next, brown tints are known for intermediate sunlight conditions and often preferred as they enhance the strength of colours through the lenses and provide a good contrast to help distinguish shape in the water such as buys in the distance. Finally, if you are a British sailor you will know that often (very often) there can be dark, overcast days which you will find a yellow tint to be most effective enhancing contrast while also providing protection from spray. 

Hydrophobic coating for glasses and sailing sunglasses.

 Do you find water droplets, smudges or grime on your lenses impairing your vision? Hydrophobic coated lenses have a slippery front surface shedding off all of those annoying distractions helping to increase your performance on the water. It is like the wax coating on your car beading off water spray to improve your vision while racing down the lake.

100% UV protection needed for sailing sunglasses

 When it comes to frame design, most of us never consider the suitability of styles for various sporting activities. When sailing it is important to protect your eyes from any peripheral glare and maximise the protection from UV, spray or impact from falling ropes when on the water. A ergonomic wrap around frame will conceal your eyes from any of these risks helping to maximise your performance. It is also wise to consider a floatable frame or buoyancy strap for those ‘cant be helped’ accidents (which we all have) when you are flung into the water during those annoying gusts.

Eyekit’s Recommendations for you!

Watching the pennies

  1. Sunwise, Fistral £20.99, Grey Polarized. Link
  2. Polaroid, P07886 0A4, £33.99, Grey/ Silver Mirror Polarized Link
  3. Gill, Racing, £35.99, Smoke Polarized, Floatable Frame Link

Middle of the road 

  1. Wiley X, WX Omega 4EY, £57.99, Black/ Emerald Amber Polarised Link
  2. Bolle, Python, £69.99, Polarised offshore blue, green/ blue mirror, Floatable strap Link
  3. Julbo, Wave, £70.99, Polarised 3 + Smoked, Floatable Link

I want the best…

  1. Ruddy Project, Zyon, £141.99, Polar3FX Grey Laser Link
  2. Wiley X, WX Rush, £104.99, Green polarised blue mirror Link
  3. Adidas, Tycane Pro, £139.99, LST Polarised Silver H+, Floatable headband Link