WEST OF ENGLAND SOUTH ROAD COMBINE by Alen Gibb
Following a very successful start to the season with four well-supported inland races, the Combine went to Carentan on 17th May for the first of five Old Bird channel races. We were hoping for a good entry as our inland races had suffered very few losses but it was a slight concern that the BICC and BBC were both racing that weekend.
Our worries proved unfounded as we had a brilliant entry of 3750 birds – about 600 up on last year. An additional 1000 birds were carried from the Welsh NR Federation and 250 birds from the Devon SR Federation – a total of almost 5000 birds. The pick-ups on Thursday evening certainly proved hard work for our drivers and convoyer but the efforts put in by Combine members, especially at Midsomer Norton, was greatly appreciated. We don’t want to spend money unnecessarily on ferry charges so must aim to use as few vehicles as possible – this means a considerable amount of work in transferring crates from the pick-up vehicles. Two transporters were needed and both were filled almost to capacity.
The birds were eventually liberated at 8am in a very light NE wind. I am told that the liberation was videoed by a local Frenchman who said he would upload it to Facebook. Our convoyer, ‘Geordie’ Burdis, was amazed at the way the birds cleared – he watched the video and saw the whole convoy had cleared the site within 20 seconds. Weather throughout the route home was reportedly perfect and an excellent race was anticipated.
Stan Dangerfield of Gloucester & District FC with his 1st Combine Carentan (4181b). Stan again topped the Combine from Portland (2809b) three weeks later.
Stan Dangerfield of the Gloucester club came out on top on 1358ypm for the 173 mile trip – second week running the furthest flying Club has topped the Combine – with a yearling blue widowhood cock gifted Stan by his good friend Brian Dearne of Lancashire. Stan’s not one to worry about pedigrees until a pigeon has proved its worth but he thinks this one is a Lambrechts. The cock was not raced as a YB but trained out to 30 miles. After the first four inland races and the Carentan race he has been stopped to develop together with a number of yearlings which have all been performing well for Stan this season. Brooks Bros and J & G Smallcombe both of Midsomer Norton took 2nd & 3rd Combine with less than a yard between them.
On 24th May the Combine were at Portland when 275 members entered 3516 birds. The weather took a turn for the worse and it was impossible to liberate, resulting in a holdover until 25th May. The convoyer held the birds until 10am when they were liberated into a SW wind. A fast race ensued with Mick Hathway of Towers club in Bristol timing the winner on 2087ypm for the 59 mile trip. He was followed by P & V Chivers (Pete is the long-standing secretary of Midsomer Norton Club) and Terry Cleverley of Farrington Gurney. Unfortunately, no details are available for the winner.
Our second Channel race of the season was on 1st June when we were at Fougeres. 280 members entered 2818 birds with additional contingents from the Welsh NR Fed, Devon SR Fed and the Wiltshire Fed making a grand total of 4153 birds– an excellent birdage considering the competition from specialist clubs at this time of year. An early liberation was not possible it being cold and overcast with mist at the race-point. The forecast was for improvement and the birds were eventually liberated at 11.15am into a NE wind. A stiff race followed and turned out to be a dream come true for the winners – Peter & Margaret Nurse of the Crewkerne club had been trying for 62 years to win the Combine and today it happened. They are both over the moon about their win coming the day after Peter was released from hospital following an operation. The winner, making 1212ypm for the 193 journey was a yearling grizzle cock - not raced as a YB because of YB sickness but trained to 20 miles.
This year as a yearling he was unmated due to a surplus of cocks; the birds were allowed to mate as they wished and the unmated ones had their freedom all together. They just had three or four training tosses to Blandford Forum and were not raced on the South West route so first races were Carentan and Guernsey with club and Classic and then to Fougeres. The sire and g.sire also flew in the Fougeres race prior to the old man entering Pau with the Classic – he has flown Tarbes three times and hopefully Pau this year. (Three generations to the same Fougeres race). The Combine winner’s dam is a grizzle with not much racing behind her. She was reported last year by Phil Newton of Weston and returned after he had kindly released her. After that she got smashed into the wires and has not been flown since as she still walks as though damaged. We wish Peter & Margaret all the best in this the year of their Diamond wedding anniversary and Peter together with twin brother celebrating their 84th birthday.
Peter & Margaret Nurse of Crewkerne - 1st Combine Fougeres (2818b)
Saturday 4th June saw the Combine at Portland when 258 members entered 2809 birds The projected weather for the day did not appear to be that good and many were predicting a holdover. Some organisations had decided to basket Saturday for a Sunday race but our convoyer and race advisor were reasonably confident that we could get a good race later in the day. Thankfully this turned out to be the case. Saturday dawned and the weather was not good. The forecast indicated that there would be improvement later in the day and our patience paid off. The birds were liberated at 12 noon and a quick race ensued with generally good returns. Once again the old maestro Stan Dangerfield best known for his distance racing came to the front with another yearling cock making 1785ypm for the 81 mile journey. The winner is a late-bred raced on the celibate system. He was not raced as a YB but trained to 30 miles – his sire is a Desmet-Matthys from Stan’s old family and winner of 1st Club Saintes. The dam is bred from great friend a George Hilson of Bury (Hilson & Green) cock paired with a hen from Sid Barkel, secretary of the NFC – she has bred Stan a lot of useful birds. Stan’s team of celibate and widowhood yearlings are really flying well this year.
Our third channel race of the season was from Messac on 14th June when a very creditable entry of 2308 birds from 252 members was achieved – over 1100 increase on 2013 - with other organisations accounting for a total of 2927 birds. Liberation had been planned as early as 5.30am but conditions on site delayed this due to haze. The day was going to be hot with a headwind and the officials wanted them to benefit from the cooler morning air as much as possible. Liberation was at 6.30am into a light north wind expected to be NE at the channel – a hard race was on the cards and this turned out to be the case. Thunderstorms were present on the eastern side of the Cherbourg peninsular but it was felt that our birds would miss these. The convoyer reported a small amount of rain near to Avranches on his journey back but our birds would have cleared the area by then – there was a strongish NE wind at Cherbourg but we don’t know how long this had been so. Final velocities showed the birds had to work hard and there were many empty perches at night though it would appear that birds continued to work through over the next day or so.
The winner was Paul King of the small Sharpness club on the banks of the River Severn in Gloucestershire flying 269 miles and making 1135ypm. His bird is a 5 year old Van Loon pied hen gifted to Paul together with other birds by Chris and Nick Orchard of Stroud, flying in the Nailsworth club when Paul took up the Sport in 2009. She started her winning as a young bird in the Sharpness club, and was hard to beat as a yearling winning numerous 1sts at all distances. Amongst her successes are 6th Combine Carentan, 8th Combine Littlehampton, 56th Open 5th NW Section CSCFC Carentan. I am told that Paul, on being told by club-mates on Saturday night that he had a good one that could top the Combine became a nervous wreck waiting for the result. Needless to say he is absolutely over the moon. He wants to thank the Combine members in all positions for the hard work that they do.
Paul King (l) & Club Secretary ‘Ragsy’ Nash of Sharpness with Paul’s 1st Combine Messac (2308b)
This race illustrates the sheer size of the Combine area and shows that all are in with a chance. Paul was one of the longest flyers in the race and in second position was Mike Staddon of Crewkerne flying 53 miles less than 216 miles. In third place were A & R Smith of Sodbury Vale flying 259 miles and the longest flyer in the Combine, Steve Hanman of Gloucester was 16th flying 282 miles. How many ‘Saturday’ organisations can provided such racing – no wonder we think it is like flying in a specialist club every week with the advantages this must give birds in learning how to think for themselves.
Including the Messac race the Combine has convoyed over 7,000 more birds than last year – this does include an extra inland race but augurs well for the future. We have been fortunate with good weather (most of the time) but we have a lot to thank our race advisor Mike Staddon and convoyer Dave Burdis for the patience they have shown and the research they do on weather conditions and other organisations’ liberation plans. Long may it continue.