3 Peaks Yacht Race – Report

Billed as the longest running adventure race in the UK and taking place each June is the 3 Peaks Yacht Race. https://www.threepeaksyachtrace.co.uk
Sail from Barmouth in Wales to Fort William in Scotland and run / cycle to the top of Snowden, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis along the way. It’s approximately 390 miles of sailing, cycling 40 miles and running 55 miles over 3 – 5 days.
A team comprises 5 people of which any 2 must go to a summit. Team White Cloud was definitely comprised of 3 sailors and 2 mountain runners, as were most boats but there is also a prize for boats that put 4 out of the team on a summit.
I was running with Malcolm, a long time employee of Marmot and very experienced mountain runner from Kendal plus John, Nick and Richard, 3 very experienced offshore racers from the Portsmouth area. Our boat White Cloud IX is a 34ft racer / cruiser yacht. The sailing times are handicapped to allow different designs of boats to be raced fairly against each other.

Start time and High tide on the Saturday was 4pm, meaning we would likely arrive at Caernarfon in the dark to begin the first run. As it turned out the start was a pretty light wind affair with all the boats remaining close together for quite a while and even a bit of rowing going on. The night came and went with us arriving in Caernarfon about 4am. The Snowdon run is 25 miles, comprising of 8 miles of gently rising road, 9 miles up and down and 8 miles of gently descending road. A total leg smasher. The tops were damp and a bit windy and I managed to get quite cold around the summit. Cold combined with fatigue led me to having a good fall and mega cramp on the run home. Not a particularly auspicious start. Leaving Caernarfon and entering the Menai Strait is always a tricky part of the race. We battled the tide in light winds for a bit, did some rowing and even put the anchor down briefly but inch by inch we made progress along the strait. Gradually the tide favoured us and the wind increased. With the wind ahead of us we had to tack up the straits and in the narrow sections the tacks came thick and fast. 76 of them on our gps track. To the non sailors reading this, 76 tacks in a couple of hours is constant hard physical work. Malcolm and I were trying to rest in our bunks as we were constantly tossed around the boat. A few teams elected to go the long way around Anglesea to avoid this but most endured the same conditions. Once out of the straits it was more straightforward sail to Whitehaven.

Although 20 hours sounds like a long time sailing, 20 hours between a 25 mile mountain run and a 53 mile cycle/run does not sound long at all. It’s a good job the Scafell Pike leg begins with a 20 mile cycle to Black Sail Hut to get the legs moving again. Mostly on paved cycle path and road with just a few miles off road as you near the hut. The run route is 13 miles, over Black Sail Pass and into Wasdale Head and then the main route up Scafell Pike, returning the same way. This leg took us 8 hours. I was very careful to pace myself as the debilitating cramp of the day before could still be felt around the edges, I definitely do not get enough vert in my training living in Devon! Most of the leg was uneventful and we saw the 3 teams ahead of us near the top of Scafell as they began the descent. We knew that we would not be able to leave Whitehaven for a few hours after the run as the tide would be too low to exit the marina but somehow we just could bring ourselves to slow down on the mountain. Get the job done and rest on the boat seemed to be the plan. We passed all the teams in front of us on the bike leg back to Whitehaven as one by one they were struck with multiple punctures before making it back to the tarmac. Malcom was on a cross bike and me on a lightweight 29er which handled the off road sections faultlessly. It was maybe a bit ambitious to use a road bike even though 90% of the route was paved. Due to the marina lock situation nobody was heavily penalised for their punctures but possibly one or two teams missed the opportunity to slip away from the rest of the field.

Half a dozen teams left Whitehaven marina at the same time for the longest sail of the race to Fort William. There are plenty of issues on this leg, places to be pinned stationary by fast tidal flow, multiple route choices around small islands and tidal overfalls to negotiate. The sailing leg took 37 hours, which was a welcome longer rest for my legs. Not all plain sailing for Team White Cloud however as we managed to wrap our spinnaker around our forestay and get it well and truly jammed. 3am and drizzlingly to add to our misery. After a bit of head scratching and gentle swearing Nick donned the climbing harness and climbed the mast to sort it out. 20 minutes of swinging around in the wind clinging onto wet sail or wet mast like a seasoned bolt climber, Nick had freed the sail and we were back up to race speed. We sailed into Corpach, the entrance to the Caledonian Canal, just outside Fort William at 8am Wednesday morning. Just the steep 18 mile run from the boat up the main zig zag path to Ben Nevis summit left to do. There were plenty of National 3 Peaks walkers to keep us entertained along the way. Sadly another claggy top so no summit views at all on this race. The ascent was relatively OK but there was some less than graceful hobbling on the descent and a painful few road miles back to the boat and the finish line.

We were the 3rd mono hull to finish but once the sailing times were adjusted we moved into 2nd place only 28 minutes ahead of 3rd place after 3 days and 20 hours of racing. Congratulations to Team Joy, who won by 4 hours.

I would heartily recommend the 3 Peaks Yacht Race to anyone. A true adventure race.

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