The Three Peaks Yacht Race is a very unique and special race, which I thoroughly enjoyed and will definitely endeavour to race again next year.
With 3 sailing legs, and 3 mountains to summit it combines 389 miles of sailing, 72 miles running with a climb of over 11,000 ft, and 36 miles cycling. One of the most unique points of the race is that you are allowed to row, so when there is no wind you can still move forward/stem the tide, which in this edition was a frequent occurrence.
The race has been running since 1977 and for all previous editions it has been a non-stop race. From when the starting gun fires in Barmouth, to when you cross the finish of the run of Ben Nevis, every second counts. With no ratings or limits to your choice of boat, it’s your decision to pick the most suitable boat. Weighing up between waterline length and speed vs the ability to row and the depth of the keel.
This year a new system had been put in place and an IRC rating used against the sailing legs. With two categories of winners, line honours, and IRC rated.
I was a part of Team Aparito Digital Health raising money for Find a Cure, made up of 2 runners, Jo Jackson, Lowri Morgan, and 3 sailors; Elin Haf Davies, Pip Hare and myself. Each and every member of the team has their own incredible achievements (give them a google), we all had huge respect for each other and there was in no way any egos on board. I’ve never been part of a team that has gelled quite so well, as we 5 did in this race. We had never once sailed together and most of us met for the first time in Barmouth. However it was the immediate bond and teamwork that resulted in our huge success.
From the beginning we set a rule that the sailors sailed and rowed and the runners, ran and recovered. It was our duty as a sailor to look after our runners, feed them, make sure they drank enough water, slept, didn’t get sea sick. We needed them in fighting fit condition for every summit. The sailing and rowing was going to be down to us!
While we were technically a team of 5, we could not have done it without our “racer chaser” Frosty, the current owner of the boat, who seemed to appear in his pink jacket at every headland and bridge, tracking us the whole way. Along with Pam and Mike Jacques, the previous owner of the boat and frequent competitor of the Three Peaks Yacht Race. Then numerous members of family and friends.
Leg 1 – Barmouth to Caernafon – 62 sailing miles, 24 running miles
We started from Barmouth in Wales, in very little wind, most opting to row across the line! Us on Aparito were very optimistic and decided to try our luck with the wind, knowing full well getting any speed rowing a 7 tonne boat would be difficult. The wind started to fill in as the evening came and we started counting down the miles to Caernafon, reducing our estimated time of arrival to our eagerly waiting runners, who were anxious to get going.
We arrived at the bar around half past midnight, screaming along with the code 0 and tide under us we were making 10 knots, with Pure Attitude right on our nose it was a tense moment. Elin on the helm, with Pip navigating us through the tiny channel, while I ran around “cleaning up” and preparing the boat for the drop off.
Reading the sailing instructions and knowing the rules of the race is vital, as you enter the port areas there are certain points where you are allowed to turn the engine on and motor. Every second counts so there is no waiting around.
As we entered Caernafon we reached the “motor on” mark and although we weren’t allowed to overtake we kept pace and on track while dropping the main, then a quick phone call to our “racer chaser” team to warn them of our arrival. Standing on the side of the boat Jo and Lowri are preparing to jump off onto the lower platform of the Caenafon pier head. With only one place to drop off, we joined the queue and waited while the boat in front dropped their runners off. Amazing that it boiled down to a few meters between boats after over 11 hours of racing.
With Jo and Lowri off doing their thing, the 3 of us sailors now had to set the anchor and wait with baited breathe for their return. Expected to take around 5 hours, we prepared the boat for the next leg. Then with an anchor watch system in place, we each managed to get just under an hour of sleep.
By 6:15 we were off gain, the girls managing to complete Snowdon in 4 hours 54 minutes. Now in 7th position, with the leader in sight and under 2 miles in front, everything was to play for. We motored off full speed towards the “engine off” mark and prepared our code 0 again with the oars on standby.
Leg 2 – Caenafon to Whitehaven & Scarfell Pike - 100 sailing miles, 36 cycling miles, 20 running miles
The shortest route to navigate to the next stop, Whitehaven, took us through the Menai Straight, including the famous Swellies, an extremely tidal section of the straight with numerous shoals, rocks and whirlpools to avoid.
We started off short tacking upwind between the two banks, trying to keep momentum against the tide. Momentarily touching the bottom once, and having to row off.
Of course then we were doomed to be rowing the whole 6 miles of the swellies, in the rain none the less. During the overly difficult sections of navigation we had Pip on the helm, iPad in hand, while Elin and I rowed full steam. Something I’m secretly glad about, when rowing you face backwards…therefore I was lucky enough not to see what we were heading through and solely trusting pip to get us through safely!
We broke free just in time before the tide turned and spat out into a windless Liverpool Bay in 3rd place. Boats starting to row around us and catch up, we opted to resting the crew and attempting to sail, with the theory that an hour of rowing got you 1 mile in front, while an hour of sleep for two people would pay dividends later. Pip took on the boat solo while Elin and I got some shut eye, awaking 1 to 2 hours later to Pip soaring along in good breeze singing her heart out, with the whole fleet behind us! Good work Pip, as a reward you can now sleep!!
We now had consistent breeze and were enjoying dodging oil rigs and wind farms as we crossed the bay in the setting sun. Just as we cleared the wind farm the wind started to ease off, we swapped between the jib and code 0 constantly, eager to get every knot out of the boat. It wasn’t long till the wind died out completely and we were doomed to get the oars out again with only 10 miles to go. Swapping between spinnaker, jib, code 0 and rowing, we really fought to keep the boat going. We had a rule on the boat, that if the boat speed dropped below 3 knots it was time to prepare to row , the key being to keep the momentum going and to do whatever we could not to stop dead.
Although it was an ungodly hour of 5am when we started rowing and I was rudely awoken to do so, motivation was high, as we knew we had to get to Whitehaven by 10:30 to get through the lock, and there was no way we were missing it. If we didn’t drop below 1 knot, we could make it. GO GO GO!
We rang up the lock gate to double check when they thought we could get in. We soon became friends and he confessed to us he reckoned we could squeeze in just before 11 with the current conditions…perfect.
We worked hard and pushed ourselves to the limits, and it was all worth it as we rowed across the line at 9:47. Engine on quickly and main down we were full steam ahead to the lock and then through to drop Jo and Lowri on the fuel pontoon.
Greeted by our shore team we knew we had 8-9 hours to rest and prepare for the final and longest leg of the race, Whitehaven to Fort William. Anxiously checking the tracker to see how Jo & Lowri were doing, we went about fixing some broken parts on the rowing system, and double-checking everything on the boat. After an amazing home cooked casserole from Pam and Mike Jacques, we put our heads down for a good 3-hour sleep.
Waking up refreshed and ready for the next leg we eagerly awaited the arrival of Jo and Lowri, while checking the weather and preparing ourselves for what laid ahead - more light winds, and difficult navigation decisions.
Ringing the lock gates with our expected departure, it looks like we might be in luck and just get out on free flow. With a boat just finishing leg 1 we left the fuel pontoon free for them and moved the boat to a berth right opposite the lock, ready to drop lines and charge forwards, our shore team on land ready to direct Jo and Lowri down to the right berth.
19:15 we cast our lines, with seconds to spare on the lock we motored through hoisting the main and preparing to unfurl the code 0 once again. The leading boat only 6 miles in front…
Leg 3 – Whitehaven to Fort William – 227 sailing miles, 24 running miles
The wind building gradually and freeing up we were soon under spinnaker in 20+ knots surfing toward the Mull of Galloway. My turn to get some kip but I couldn’t switch off, listening to what was going on on deck, water rushing under the hull, screams of delight and constant speed watching “Woooo 13.1 knots!” Watching white lights turn red and then red and green, we were passing through the fleet. As we reached the headland we could just make out Pure Attitude in the moonlight, who had chosen to drop the kite while passing. Adrenaline high we pushed on harder taking every inch we could with the spinnaker, passing right in close next to the headland to escape the foul tide.
It was intense sailing, all three of us working hard to keep moving 100%, constantly trimming and changing the sails, changing our direction 5-10 degrees to get the optimum speed. It all paid off and as the sun came up we had a clear lead on Pure Attitude. Although not for long, we sailed into a windless hole, and painfully watched them sail around us, as we rushed to get our oars rigged and in position. This race really is like a giant game of snakes and ladders! Eager not to loose everything we worked hard for the night before, we took to the oars and kept rowing until we had a stable wind. For the next few hours we were swapping between sailing and rowing once again, searching for any wind we could find. During one becalmed section the team hoisted me up to the 1st spreaders to have a good look to see if we could find any wind.
The tide soon against us, thankfully the wind started to fill in and we headed towards the western shoreline and prepared to short tack our way up the coast. Probably the highlight of the race for me, there is just something about pushing the limits when you’re heading towards rocks and cliff edges that I really enjoy. It really was a case of your bow hitting the sides and not the keel on the bottom; it’s a true test of navigation and having the confidence to push it. Satisfied we really pushed the limits after hearing the on board reporter Justine slip out “fucking hell girls you have balls, that was close”!
We really had to keep our heads out the boat and watch the numbers, as the tidal streams are hardly charted and seem to change regularly and haphazardly. Discovering some awesome back eddys, and wind bends, only to be knocked backwards later. Edging out further into the main stream every now and again to gauge the effect and note when the tide was changing with us. Numbers running through our heads..”ok more than 60 cog we tack, less than 320 we tack…! Then adjusting, as the wind increased, there was certainly no rest for the wicked!
While we had a solid lead, we were full of apprehension that once round the corner the final stretch would be a row off and we wanted to give the runners as big a head start as we could. With this is mind we were fighting for every mile, and pushing more than ever. With the wind building every second, once through the gap we had a reef in the main and were making 7 knots through the water and with every update on the tracker we were extending our lead. We enjoyed our final dinner on deck together then started a watch system to preserve our energy for the finish and potentially a final row.
The pressure was building for Lowri and Jo, and I really felt for them. We were working hard to give them a good lead, but we had to tack every 10-15 minutes, it wasn’t a smooth ride for them. It must have felt like a human game of buckaroo, with them quite literally being rocked to sleep.
The miles disappeared rapidly and soon we were through the Corin narrows and into the final 6 miles. Jo and Lowri were now trying to prepare for their final run, with the boat at 40 degrees and changing direction and angle every 5 minutes; tension was at an all time high, nerves running wild. Not helped by the fact we had the companion way stairs off and engine bay open in order to bleed the engine. During the night when charging we were heeled over too much, for the level of fuel we had left, and managed to get air in the system. Not ideal!
Crossing the line we motored into the dock and dropped off Jo and Lowri, it was down to them now…no pressure girls! With an expected time of 4-5 hours for the ascent we were left stalking the tracker and clock watching the boats behind us. With just under a 2 hour lead on the next boat, who’s runners had similar speeds on the previous ascents, the pressure was off, the girls just had to keep going and be safe as to not cause injury.
With the boat securely tied up inside the lock we headed for the hills and drove to the base of the Ben Nevis, climbing up a little way to be able to meet them on the tracks to cheer them on. The final 6 miles of the run back to the boat and finish line is the most soul destroying, running through industrial buildings and the back of a housing estate. Mike Jacques kindly drove both Pip and I to each corner of the estate to cheer them on while Elin and Frosty got the bubbly ready at the finish line. The final corner was done and we raced round to the marina and the finish line, eagerly awaiting their yellow bibs to pop up on the horizon.
Hand in hand Lowri and Jo ran towards the line with the 3 of us creating a human line ready to embrace and celebrate with them. We did it...we left Barmouth in search of line honours and by god we got it and had a good hour and a half on the next team. The feeling was incredible! Rumours were then flying that it was to be very close between the front 3 boats on the IRC rating category. Pure Attitude rating lower than us snuck in and beat us by 2 minutes on the sailing and had 38 minutes on us overall on sailing and running, dropping us into 2nd place on IRC.
Team Aparito Digital Health
Aparito is a wearable device, a bit like a wristwatch, that can be used to monitor patients with long term diseases at home. Patients can use it to record their own health, with the help of an app, but the wristband also measures biometric data, meaning fewer hospital visits and tests.
Find a Cure
Find a Cure work to: (1) empower patient groups to build their patient community, develop as a charity, and drive treatment research; and (2) promote collaboration between rare disease stakeholders to facilitate treatment development for all.