The 40th Three Peaks Yacht Race

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Slow Motion Racing in the Swellies

Rob Howard / 18.06.2017See All Event Posts Follow Event
The lead 3 boats in the Swellies
The lead 3 boats in the Swellies / © Rob Howard

It was an exciting early morning in the Menai Strait at the 3 Peaks Yacht Race, in a slow motion kind of way.  In fact at one point the leader of the race was moored up, facing backwards and probably having breakfast!

Talented as the sailors in the race are they can’t defy nature completely. With a strong tide against them and little breeze to fill their spinnakers they were either stationary, going backwards or opted to moor up when they arrived in the Swellies.  This is the area between the two menai bridges, a difficult passage at the best of times as it is a narrow, rocky channel which funnels the huge tides sweeping through.

After a good run on Snowdon Hare Hill still had a lead arriving at the Britannia Bridge, but Moby J, White Cloud and Wight Rose were close by, all edging slowly forward with spinnakers flying.

It was once under the bridge into the stronger tide that they stopped making any forward progress.  They were back and forward for a while on the mainland side of the channel, before trying their luck on the other side of Church Island (Ynys Gored Goch).  Still they drifted back and forward, for more than an hour, and Moby J and White Cloud caught up.  (Wight Rose must have anchored before the Britannia Bridge as I lost sight of them.)

After a while Moby J headed towards the island, and picked up a mooring in a back eddy.  It was a spectacular place to stop, right in the middle of the channel with the tide racing either side, and at this point they stayed in first place for quite a while! They were no doubt watching their rivals struggling to break through and pass the island while they had their cornflakes and the runners slept peacefully.

After several attempts, each one failing as the spinnaker flapped uselessly, it was White Cloud which eventually managed to pass the island on the Anglesey side, and from there they progressed sedately along the Swellies, under the impressive spans of the Telford Bridge and past Bangor Pier to exit the Strait.  It was an impressive (and unlikely) piece of sailing and the reward for their skill and persistence was to pass Hare Hill and take a 45 minute lead (at the Telford Bridge).

Hare Hill spent passed under the Telford Bridge at 07.54 after spending nearly 3 hours in the Swellies – which will surely have taken a toll on their mental and physical reserves.  Given what they are attempting maybe they should have followed the tactics of Wight Rose and preserved some energy?

However, the pair had completed Snowdon in the faster than expected time of 5 hours 27 minutes and will know it is critical to their chances to get out of Whitehaven on the same tide as their rivals to maintain any chance of winning. They will be several hours slower the long Scafell stage and may have felt every minute counts.

Wight Rose and then Moby J followed under the bridge at 08.25 and 08.30, so Hare Hill had only gained a half hour advantage for their efforts.

The running race this year could be very close and the quickest on Snowdon overnight were Alex Pilkington and Pavel Paloncy of Wight Rose in a time of 4.04.  They won King of the Mountains last year, but were just one minute ahead of Muir Morton and Tom Bush from Moby J on the first peak.  A little further back the runners from Chemsol, Mystery 11 of Meon, Aurora, White Cloud and Wild Spirit, all had times under 5 hours and within 20 minutes of each other.

By early Sunday morning all the boats were into Caernarfon with Ultimate Direction bringing up the rear.  For while in the middle of the night they were sailing back towards Barmouth and some were wondering what their ultimate direction was, but they swung around and arrived in Caernafron at 04.33 in the morning, shortly after Mammoths.

You can follow the race live tracking at

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