Racing Reports

3 Peaks Yacht Race report

3 Peaks Yacht Race 2018—Winners plus Line Honours and King of the Mountains

Starting in Barmouth and finishing near Fort William the original Three Peaks Yacht Race is one of the oldest and most remarkable multi-sport endurance races in the world.
It draws competitors from all sporting backgrounds & with sailing experience from off-shore cruising to round-the-world races. Sailing & sports clubs, military & company teams all enter & compete on equal terms.

Heading North
I had first met Steve and the Irish team for the 3 peaks yacht race in Greystones Marina whilst taking Wild Spirit round from Lymington to Troon, which was to be our base for summer 2018. Steve wanted to pick my brains about the race, which didn’t take long, and I was interested in their preparations which involved new instruments and a very well turned out racing yacht.

The new secret weapon
Barmouth was much the same as last time except sunny. Our preparations were behind as the University hadn’t built the new prototype pedal power unit designed by an MSc in time. So Shelf had knocked one up using the leg of an outboard and his wife’s old bike plus an electric drill bit connected with a flexible drive.


He was still working on it when I was asked to talk to a group of school children about the race. They asked the right questions and were clearly amused by Shelf’s impression of a mad inventor. At the end one asked will you win? I replied probably not and the Irish were the team to follow; prophetic words.

Crossing the Bar,
The Three Peaks is a tough race with serious tidal gates and the second one is Caernarfon Bar which had stopped us dead in 2017 alongside 2 other yachts. Before this there was the YC Bar as well which we negotiated with care.
The new pedal powered unit was very much a prototype and the gearing ratios were experimental, as we joined the parade out to the start in a rush we had not hoisted it from the water and it set off pedalling itself off the prop, designed to produce half a knot it was now operating at 7 and rotating with such vigour that we had to stop Wild Spirit to enable safe retrieval.

The start was reasonably good without needing to row, one unusual feature of this race is that you can row (or pedal) and in 2017 we rowed about 20 miles. The run up to Bardsey sound was without incident but the wind was dying and rowing was required, the pedal powered unit was briefly deployed and stayed with us through the race but any extra it gave us probably didn’t make up for its weight.

With little wind we struggled on, night fell and dawn came with Bardsey still insight We could see Baloo doing well in close to the shore but we had no way of getting there.
The sun rose, the breeze came and we crossed Caernarfon Bar under spinnaker and sailed to the ‘engine on point’ then motored in to drop off the two runners.

Spinnaker run
A few repairs a quick shop, half an hours rest and then back to pick the runners up. Most years we go north through the Swellies but the tide was just turning against us and there was a northerly wind. No one has won the race going round the outside of Anglesey before, we were first away; decision time. We went round but first we motored back to the engine off mark and then with spinnaker up sat for half an hour as the tide turned and the Irish closed on us.

With little wind we crept west and the lighter Irish yacht passed us. Then the wind picked up and we both sped away only to face wind and tide against us off the west of the Anglesey. We knew they had some good navigation software and they were ‘Team Digital Consulting’ so, unlike me, they knew how to use it.
Baloo did well close in but we fought on against wind and tide making it round Anglesey and up towards the Isle of Man. The Army team on Ajax pursued us and the Irish came in from the West to beat us into Whitehaven, starting the long cycle and run up Scafell before us.

Shelf and Jon were off up the mountain whilst the three sailors plus Judith, our support team, went for a steak and a couple of pints before a sleep.

A close run thing
The runners returned but the gates didn’t open for 2hours and we locked out with the Irish plus one of the challenge boats. By agreement we both started the final leg at the same time and we set off west on a favourable breeze. I had considerable respect for the new software they were using, so when they got ahead of us, decided we should follow and we did for hours as we fought our way round the Mull of Galloway and then north against wind and a big tide. They tacked, we tacked, our aim was just to stay with them. Somewhere near Portpatrick and with nightfall they slipped away but we found an inshore eddy that I have used before and as the wind died we crossed west to where we expected the wind to fill in from first.

In tricky variable light winds Pete thought he saw a wind line and called a tack, he was right and we were off again with the Mull of Kintyre looming ominously through the predawn gloom.
We crept up to the Mull and saw the Irish about 3 miles west of us. Should we follow or hope for weaker adverse tides closer in to Gigha Island, we went for the latter and the wind filled in to push us north against the tide. The gale warnings came on the VHF but at least they would be southerly or south west and once we were up past Lismore Island the water would be reasonably flat.

As we approached Correyvechan the Irish went close into Jura for the eddy whilst we stayed in the main channel hoping for cleaner wind, Nick was navigating and called a different course from the one I have used before and we emerged from the sound of Luing just in front. With the wind rising both yachts sped north on a favourable tide regularly topping 10 kits speed over ground.

As we headed towards the Corpach Narrows the gusts were more than 30 knots but we both kept spinnakers up though we witnessed two serious broaches which reinforced our belief that the Irish team were very much still in it to win. As we closed on the ferry crossing at Corran we were only 30 metres apart and I called the ferry on VHF to tell them 2 racing yachts were coming, their reply was “we will wait for you”.
On a swirling, flooding tide we both shot through the narrows and then the wind changed. We went back to normal sails, we closed on Steve’s team on a starboard tack and called; then they forced us up coming within a metre, just like dinghy racing but with 4 days and over 300 miles of racing behind us.


Close together in 30 kts after 300 miles
For the run down to the finish both teams hoisted kites and we benefited from having a symmetric one which suited the wind conditions better than their asymmetric. Finally arriving at the finish we were just ahead and dropped the kite and turned on the engine, they did the same but a rope went round their prop.
We took their runners aboard so they could land and do the run, we also gave them a tow but they soon fixed the problem and we motored in towards the runner drop off point only to learn that storm conditions on the summit had led to the postponement of the run. Not so bad for the sailors as we had finished and could have a drink, but the runners would have to go the next morning– selflessly the sailors helped them out by drinking their Beer for them.

In over 100,000 miles of sailing including 7 Sydney to Hobart’s, 7 Fastnet and a lot of other big races this was by far the best and the runner’s beer tasted particularly delicious.

With winds of over 100 KMH on the mountain the organisers asked the Police and Mountain Rescue for advice and then went for a shortened course, with mass start which was eventually undertaken at mid-day. Shelf and Jon were pursued hard by both team Baloo and Digital Consulting but finished first ensuring that as well as taking line honours, plus Wild Spirit winning overall they were ‘King of the Mountains’ winning all 3 mountain legs.

Baloo and Ajax struggled in despite missing a tidal gate and being hit by the gale, but half the fleet succumbed. Always next year and it really is the best yacht race in the world.


Wild Spirit 2018 From left Pete, Nick, Paul, Jon, Shelf.

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