Three Peaks Yacht Race

  • UK (GBR)

The 3 Peaks – In the Spirit of Tilman

Rob Howard / 12.06.2012See All Event Posts Follow Event
Setting off for Ben Nevis
Setting off for Ben Nevis


The 3 Peaks Yacht Race is one of the oldest and most remarkable multi-sport endurance races in the world. It is now in its 36th year and predates all modern adventure racing by more than a decade. 

The format has been copied in several other countries around the world, but the original race and course are shaped by the geography of the UK, and the event was inspired by the great British explorer, climber and sailor Major HW Tilman.

Tilman was renowned for this mountaineering expeditions and explorations between the wars, including early Everest trips and the first ascent of Nanda Devi.  After service behind enemy lines in World War 2 he turned to sailing exploration in the poles, seeking out new and uncharted mountains to climb. He was a renowned travel and exploration writer with an understated style; describing reaching the summit of Nanda Devi he wrote; “I believe we so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands on it.”  He also believed “any worthwhile expedition can be planned on the back of an envelope” and advertised for crew on his trips as “Hands wanted for long voyage in a small boat; no pay, no prospects, not much pleasure.”

Sailing crews looking for runners for the 3 Peaks Yacht Race could probably still use the same ad! The race came about as Tilman lived (when he was in the UK) at a house on the Mawddach estuary near the mid-Wales town of Barmouth. His doctor, Dr. Rob Haworth spent many hours talking with Tilman about his adventures and planned to mini-Tilman holiday, sailing up the West Coast of the UK to Fort William, and stopping on the way to climb the 3 highest peaks in Wales, England and Scotland.  It was Haworth’s partner, Dr Merfyn Jones, who commented; “Wouldn’t it make a wonderful race.”

Between them they organised the first race in 1977, with Tilman himself as the first President of the committee and 7 teams took part, taking just over 5 days to sail 389 miles of difficult coastal waters and walk 73 miles with 11,000 feet of climbing.  (In the early days the mountain ascents were a walk in stout boots and heavy mountain clothing, with some of the climbers taking tents and provisions to camp out for the night!)

Tilman was on the first committee when they discussed rules and said, “Why not just let them get on with it!” ... which they did.  In the first race the boats could land wherever they wished to set pairs of climbers off on their trek, and there were none of the usual sailing handicaps – teams turned up in what boats they had and all competed on equal terms. The basic rules were to have teams of 5, not allow the use of engines except when entering or leaving harbours, and not to use any additional transport.

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