Race Report by Josh Rowley from 2022
Race Winners - Osprey Meadows
I want to share my experience of being part of the winning team of the 2022 Three Peaks Yacht Race - I hope that my tale stirs your adventurous spirit, perhaps to the point where you are tempted to enter the 2023 race.
The Three Peaks Yacht Race is a uniquely challenging event that combines technical navigation, offshore sailing, trail running, cycling, and a lot of luck into a thrilling 4-day race through much of the finest scenery in Great Britain. (Ed. It might take a bit longer sometimes!)
The race was born in the late 1970's when Bill Tilman, a climber and sailor from Barmouth, spent one of his holidays sailing from Barmouth to Fort William stopping en route to summit each of the highest peaks in Wales, England, and Scotland. A friend suggested it would make a marvellous race, and in 1997 they ran the first one.
Today, teams of five sail from Barmouth to Fort William via Caernarfon and Whitehaven with two of the crew getting off the boat to climb the highest mountains of Wales, England, and Scotland.
Our team(Osprey Meadows) crossed the start line off Barmouth at 17:00 on Saturday 9th of July on a glorious day in the middle of the heatwave. We were aboard Tactix, Geoff West's X99 a 32ft 1989 vintage boat. The team consisted of Phil, Geoff, and me as Skippers and Anna and Ben were the runners.
Shortly after departing, I encountered the first novelty of this unusual sailing race – the use of oars. Caught against a tide in light winds we were being sent round in circles around the Lleyn Peninsula and many teams had to row themselves past.
After 14h 25mins of sailing through the night we arrived at Caernarfon where Anna and Ben promptly hopped off the boat to start their 40km run to the top of Snowden and back (a climb of 1,200m).
Picking the runners up at 13:25 we rushed up the Menai straits, only to run aground a few minutes later. So, on this beautiful summer day, we were sat stationary while everyone else raced on. Despite frantic efforts to tilt Tactix off the sand we had to wait for the tide to lift us off. Ben was delighted to be able to cool off in the water while we waited.
As we were lifted off the sand, we sailed under Britannia Bridge and tacked through the Swellies with a strong tide. Sailors reading will know what this means. In one of the most intense moments of the race, we felt the boat speed drop and our ability to steer diminish as we were tossed around in strong currents. We picked our way past the rocks and made it out the other side with great relief. There was no time for photos here!
We sailed out between Puffin Island and Penmon Point (Eastern tip of Anglesey) and then through the night across the Irish Sea to Whitehaven (Lake District). As we approached, I watched our ETA hover around the critical cut-off time that would allow us into Whitehaven before the tide got too low.
We trimmed our sails and helmed as carefully as we could, but 25h 38m after departing Caernarfon we arrived at the Whitehaven lock 30 minutes too late to get in. This small delay cost us 4 hours at anchor, waiting for the tide. We were convinced we now stood no chance of winning.
Once the tide had risen sufficiently, we rushed through the lock, and Anna and Ben set off on their bikes at 19:08 (having had only 30h to recover from a run up Snowdon). The pressure was on, because having come into the lock on a rising tide, they only had 7h 30 to get there and back before the tide dropped to the point where we would again be stuck inWhitehaven for another 4 hours- a tall order!
They started their leg: a 33k cycle to Wasdale Head, a 21k run up and down Scafell Pike, and then back another 33k on their bikes.
Meanwhile, I was becoming increasingly envious of the runners, I was dying to go for a jog myself to stretch. Thankfully, Geoff reminded me that this was an endurance race. I needed to save my energy for sailing and be in peak physical condition for the 227nm sailing leg ahead - so Phil, Geoff and I went to the pub for some beers instead.
Anna and Ben arrived back at boat at 04:42 - 9h 29 after they set off. They were the 3rd fastest team on this leg, but sadly we had missed the tide. At least they had 2 hours for a shower and some breakfast before setting off on our final sailing leg at 07:05.
We departed Whitehaven on the same tide as team Wild Spirit, but the lead boat (Roaring Forties) had left on the previous tide, giving them a solid 7h lead on us. We were convinced we were out of the race.
Just 15h later though, off the coast of Ireland, we saw on the tracker that Roaring Forties had been caught in strong tides off the Mull of Kintyre. They had lost about 4h. The race had turned around and was now between Roaring Forties, Wild Spirit, and us. It was all to play for.
We made our final tack near Russels Rock off the coast of Larne, Northern Ireland. We had calculated everything perfectly. With favourable wind and tides we sailed on a single tack through the Inner Hebrides straight to Corpach (Fort William). This took us through the Sound of Jura, Loch Linnhe, past the whirlpools of the notorious Gulf of Corryvreckan, and finally through the narrows at Corran.
Almost exactly 4 days after crossing the start line at Barmouth, and 34 hours after leaving Whitehaven, we were only a few meters away from Wild Spirit as we bore down on Corpach, the end of the final sailing leg. We raced hard for hours, and eventually overtook. We got Anna and Ben ashore just seconds ahead of Wild Spirit.
The runners set off at 17:22 for their final peak: Ben Nevis. The 29km run involves climbing about 1,400m. Just 4h22 later they made it over the finish line finishing the race. Over 100h after leaving Barmouth, we were the overall winners of the race.
We were invited to the prize-giving ceremony in Caernarfon, where we were awarded our trophy.
The only real disappointment was the fact that without more entries we may have raced the last race. With only 9 boats, the field was not huge, and the committee made a small loss. Without 10 entries by New Year, there will be no 3PYR in 2023.
This exhilarating race is a fantastic way to explore the British coast and truly disconnect from life on land.
The race is open to both monohulls and multihulls, and the overall time is calculated using a handicap system - meaning almost any yacht can take part and stand a fair chance of winning. There is also a non-competitive Challenge Class - allowing competitors to join in the fun but make use their engines (ideal for those on tight timetables or not comfortable navigating some of the trickiest bits under sail alone).
Interested in running, sailing, or skippering? Get in touch with the race!