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Three Peaks Race - From Barmouth to Fort William via Isle of Eriska

Posted by Christina Jacobsen on Jun 25, 2013 2:29:00 PM


Pier with boat small

Last week the Three Peaks Yacht Race kicked off in Barmouth! It is one of the oldest and most extraordinary extreme multi-sport endurance races in the world.

Driac at Isle of EriskaWe thought we would write a bit about it as we received a fugitive from the storm building up during the race last Friday. At the far right in the above picture lies Driac. As the weather was forecasted to become more challenging over the weekend and the team had experienced some problems, they decided to anchor up at our pier at Eriska. Driac is a Champer & Nicholson 1930 and has an experienced team with skipper Charles Lyster, Crew members; Mr Nick Ray & Mr Vernon Gayle and Runners; Mr Stefan Fritz and Miss Julie Shaunessey. 

Each year this classic sporting event combining sailing, running and cycling, challenges intrepid teams to sail from the mid-Wales coastal resort of Barmouth, up the west coast of the UK, to finish in Fort William. Teams of four or five per yacht sailed from Barmouth to Fort William, with two from each crew climbing the highest mountains of Wales, England and Scotland en route, and running the equivalent of three marathons in 3 or 4 days! 

The race draws competitors from a wide variety of sporting backgrounds and sailing experience, ranging from off-shore cruising to round-the-world racing. Sailing and sports clubs, military and company teams all enter the race and compete on equal terms. The Race has attracted competitors from all over the UK, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, Eire, Norway, USA, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia.

How the Three Peaks race came to be

H.W. (Bill) Tilman was a famous English mountaineer and explorer and known for his adventures as a climber and sailor. Living in Barmoth the inspiration behind the idea of a race was conceived by his doctor, Rob Haworth. 

The actual idea of making it into a race came from Rob Haworth’s partner, Dr Merfyn Jones. Sitting around the kitchen table on a cold winter’s evening in 1976 Rob recounted his idea for his holidays. Merfyn heard him out and then said “wouldn’t it make a marvellous race”. They set out a rough map using kitchen utensils, with bottles to represent the mountains, and worked out the logistics. Merfyn spent his spring break checking out the course, a committee was formed from local people interested in sailing and Bill Tilman was invited to be the race president. 

Seven teams took part in the first race in 1977, and it took those entrants just over 5 days to sail 389 miles, climb 11,000 feet and walk or run 73 miles. Unusually monohulls and multihulls raced together without handicap for the first 11 years. This year, today it is a fierce race against time.

The Ultimate Challenge

Sailboat For the sailors
, the Race includes many seamanship problems not normally associated with yacht races: the crossing of Caernarfon Bar, the treacherous Swellies in the Menai Straits, the rounding of the Mull of Kintyre, the whirlpools of the notorious Gulf of Corryvreckan, and finally the narrows at Corran where the ebb will stop the boat dead in the water. Thus a well found boat is needed and much meticulous planning and preparation is required for success. Yachts are not designed for rowing and to get the best out of oars, which many boats carry, special fittings are needed. 

Ben NevisThe runners, both gentlemen and ladies, include some of the finest fell runners and marathon runners in the country. Generally marathon runners don’t much care for running up and down hills and fell runners are equally adverse to running on roads. The mountains present problems of their own; there is always snow on Ben Nevis, even in June; wind, rain and mist can make conditions atrocious. Added to which many have to do their running in the dark and for those who suffer from sea sickness they do not even start the runs feeling at their best. The faster the yacht sails the quicker the runs come round. For the leading boats the runners usually have to do the first two runs, 24 miles and 48 miles respectively during one 24-hour period.

In 2000, the port of Whitehaven replaced the port of Ravenglass as the port for Scafell Pike. This being further away than the previous port, bicycles are now being used for the first 15 miles to the mountain before the runners are again faced with an extra 2,000ft high mountain pass! The talents of the runners and the sailors must be combined – teamwork is really essential in this race. 

The Race is a journey through much of the finest scenery in the UK. Barmouth itself lies at the mouth of the Mawddach estuary described by Wordsworth as “sublime”. When leaving Whitehaven to go to Fort William (approximately 227 sea miles), the teams round the Mull of Kintyre and go into the Sound of Jura, through more beautiful scenery but with many tidal gates to negotiate. The race finishes just north of Fort William at Corpach, the entrance to the Caledonian canal where the sailing is over and skippers can relax. The runners, after checking in with the marshals, set off to the summit of Ben Nevis, finishing when they return to cross the finish line. 

Being the ultimate challenge in the UK, the Three Peaks Race has spawned other 3 Peaks yacht races in other part of the world, amongst some; Australia and Hong Kong which has lead 3 Peaks yacht racing to become a genre of its own.

Do you feel like challenging yourself yet? Next year's race has already been planned to start 7th June 2014 - so you have plenty of time to prepare yourself!

Topics: Isle of Eriska Hotel, History, Scottish Weather, scenery, Sailing