Veterans and School Teams Triumph at the 44th Three Peaks Yacht Race and Challenge
This year’s Three Peaks Yacht Race showed, once again, why it has endured since 1977 as one of the world’s great adventure races.
The 44th race was won on handicap by a skipper and boat combination which first won in 1999, while the Challenge event was successfully completed by two school teams for the first time, with 16 and 17 year old pupils taking part. The 44th race was one for the record books.
Before the start off Barmouth, the forecast was for little or no wind, but off-shore forecasts can be wrong, and team ‘Roaring Forties’ in a J111 led across the start line in a 15 knot North-Westerly, just ahead of the Sedbergh School team on a Jeanneau Sunfast 360.
The school teams were in the non-competitive Challenge Class which allows engine use if needed, and for larger and more flexible teams. The second Challenge entry was Shrewsbury School, on Simon Ridley’s Swan 45, and both had school staff sailing with them or joining them on the mountain running stages.
The prospect of 389 miles of offshore sailing up the West Coast to Fort William, and of running 55 miles (and cycling 40 miles) to reach the summits of the highest points in Wales, England and Scotland (Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis) didn’t daunt the young athletes.
On each summit they ran together with the school staff, setting good times, and with the help of engine use through the tidal gates they stayed ahead of the race yachts (which had long periods of no wind or holding position against the tide).
On the hardest land stage, 40 miles of cycling and 12.5 miles of running to the summit of Scafell Pike in the Lake District, the young Sedbergh School runners beat the time of all the race teams, except the runners from team ‘Wild Spirit’, who are GB internationals.
When the school boats arrived at Corpach for the final run up Ben Nevis, the conditions on the summit were 30 mile per hour winds and a wind chill temperature of -5C, but there was no hesitation and both schools sent their runners up and down the highest peak in the UK and successfully completed the Challenge class.
The Sedbergh team sent all 6 of their pupils on the final run and at the finish the team leader, Oliver Barnes, said. “It was really important they all did the final leg together, and they’ve been a fantastic team.”
Ashley Field, their skipper for the race said, “It’s been good to see their confidence grow as sailors day by day. They’ve learnt a lot and were doing what needed to be done without being asked pretty quickly. They’ve not once complained, and have stood watches in the night and shared the cooking and cleaning between them.”
The Shrewsbury School team were put together by Sam Griffiths, a school Housemaster, and he completed all three peaks with the pupils, who included his son Hamish, who ran all 3 peaks with his father. The land support crew for their team was Sam’s father, Lloyd, who has himself completed the race, back in 1980. This team had 3 generations of the 3 peaks racers!
The first race boat to arrive in Corpach was the J111 of team ‘Roaring Forties’ who at one point after leaving Whitehaven had a 35 mile lead. Most of that was lost at the Mull of Kintyre, where precious hours were spent circling in the tidal eddies. The Three Peaks Yacht Race is always an emotional rollercoaster, the highs and lows often coinciding with the 9 tidal gates on the course.
Roaring Forties took line honours and the Daily Telegraph Cup, but knew the race win had slipped from their grasp. Skipper Cris Miles commented, “This was a race where we really had to grind it out.”
Behind them and finishing quickly were two previous race winning skippers, in two previous race winning boats.
Osprey Meadows (X99) and Wild Spirit (Reflex 38) had been close racing for the last 75nm of the course, in sight of each other all the way from the Mull of Kintyre.
Wild Spirit, skippered by Paul Jackson, had the advantage of the fastest runners on their team. Matt Knowles and Edward Cordon are both GB and N. Ireland international mountain runners, and they comfortably set the fastest time of 14 hours 42 minutes for all the mountain stages to win the title of ‘Kings of the Mountains’.
However, the Reflex 38 had a higher handicap than the older X99 and the two boats arrived at the end of the sailing legs in Corpach together, with only the Ben Nevis run remaining. The faster runners from Wild Spirit couldn’t hope to gain enough time to prevent Osprey Meadows taking the win on IRC handicap with a corrected overall race time of 4 days 3 hours 46 minutes.
The winning skipper was Geoff West, and it was his 7th race win, the last being in 2014. His first win had been on the same X99 (Tactix) in 1999, and he won on it again in 2010, meaning he has won the race on the same boat in 3 different decades, over a period of 25 years!
Speaking after the win he said, “I think it just goes to show that almost any boat can have a competitive Three Peaks Yacht Race and the handicap is effective. We’ve won in an old boat, with sails bought in 2009, so you don’t need an expensive, modern racer to have a good race here.”
Crew on the winning boat were Josh Rowley and Phil Downey, and the runners were Anna Buckingham and Ben Cartwright (who were the second fastest over all 3 peaks behind Wild Spirit).
Wild Spirit was second overall and Roaring Forties third. In 5th place was the Dutch team ‘Food For Flow’ on a Dehler 35 CR, and they were the oldest team and had the oldest runner. This was former Dutch Marine, Axel van Willigenbury, a very fit and athletic 69 year old, who walked all the peaks at a fast pace using trekking poles.
He knows Ben Nevis well from many visits for winter climbing and on the summit in bad weather he was following a compass bearing across the snowcap in the thick mist. “We were safe and on the right course,” he said, “but stopped a bit short and the runners from ‘Seas the Life arrived and we found the top together.”
He added, “I think it is great the race has no signposting or hand-holding, you need the right skills and are allowed to get on with it yourself, at your own speed.”
The oldest sailor was 80 year old John Williams on 4th placed ‘Seas the Life’, a Hanse 458, and there were two more international competitors on the last boat to arrive, Olympioz, a Malo 34. Tom Dillon had flown from Australia for the race, after suggesting to his compatriot Wes Batty, that they ‘do something crazy’.
When the runners from Olympioz ran across the finish line to close the race all of the starters had completed the event. They were boats of all sizes and ages, racers and cruisers, carrying teams with an age range from 16 to 80.
What they had in common was that they had all raced competitively on the same scenic and challenging course, they’d all had a great adventure, and they all had a small, blue enamelled medal around their necks which signified they had finished the Three Peaks Yacht Race.
Next year’s race will start on June 10th.