The Three Peaks Yacht Race

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The Race in Brief

Rob Howard / 06.06.2014See All Event Posts Follow Event

The race begins in Barmouth on Saturday, with the boats motoring out of the harbour behind the Barmouth Lifeboat at 15.30, then they cross the start line a mile off shore at 14.30.

Stage one takes the yachts around the Llyn Peninsula, through the difficult tides between the cliffs and Bardsey island, and into the Menai Strait to reach the first stop at Caernarfon.  It can be a difficult entry to the Strait, crossing the shallow waters over Caernarfon Bar and damaged keels and grounded boats are not uncommon. The first sail is the shortest, and the record of 6 hours 52 minutes was set way back in 1991. It is unlikely anyone will be near that time this year and most will arrive in the early hours of Sunday to set their runners off for the first time. If they have not got their sea legs yet it can be a rough start to the race, but they are usually glad to get ashore!

The lead runners usually make the 22 mile run in the dark and there is a significant amount of road running on this stage, both to the foot of the mountain and back.  Snowdon is the only mountain the runners cross from one side to the other – on the other two peaks they go up and down the same way.

A feature of the race is that the runners are often racing against the tide, aiming to get back in good time so their yacht can use a favourable tide to leave, and that’s the case with the fierce tides in the Strait.  The faster runners usually take close to 4 hours (and the record is an incredible 3.06).

The next sail is to Whitehaven, and begins the perilous passage of the Menai Strait. The tidal range here is immense and the currents and the rocks around The Swellies are the stuff of skipper’s nightmares if they have to pass with an unfavourable tide.  If the tide is against they may have to moor up, and it’s here the oars are often used for the first time.  The two bridges the yachts pass under are popular spectator points!

Once out of the Strait and headed towards Whitehaven, there are still sand bars to watch for, and on arrival the tide still plays its part as the marina lock gate is tidal, so the yachts can only get in and out at certain times.  At Whitehaven the crew get a break (maybe a shower and a meal) and the chance to make any repairs as the runners take on the longest land stage. 

The second land leg is by far the longest, at more than 40 miles, but the first and last 13 miles are cycled to and from Ennerdale Youth Hostel.  The ride is a tough climb on the way out and though its mostly on road the final ride along Ennerdale is rough track, so choice of bike and tyre is tricky. Once the bikes are left at Ennerdale the racers cross Black Sail Pass into Wasdale, climb up and down Scafell Pike and retrace their route.  After so much climbing the downhill return on bikes to the yachts is welcome (but there are still some climbs as well).

The record for this stage is 6 hours 22 minutes, set in 2013 by Chris and Adam Perry, who are racing again this year, but most pairs take 2 or 3 times as long.

The final sailing leg is by far the longest, from Whitehaven, around the Mull of Galloway and Mull of Kintyre, then in among the Hebridean Isles on the west coast of Scotland to make a passage into Loch Linnhe. There are many tidal gates, navigational and tactical choices to make, hazards to avoid, and there are almost always periods of calm where the oars come out again and the tired crews have to dig deep to make progress.

Their destination is the lock basin at Corpach at the end of the Caledonian Canal, which has a dramatic and intimidating view of Ben Nevis on a clear day.  To the top and back is the shortest, but steepest run, almost 14 miles, from sea level to the highest point in the UK and back down to the finish at Corpach.  

You can find out more about the race at www.threepeaksyachtrace.co.uk and all of the yachts and runners carry satellite trackers which you can follow at http://yb.tl/threepeaks2014

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