It's a tough race, involving sailing from Barmouth to Fort William in three legs and scaling the peaks of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. Pip Hare leads her team to the end of Leg 2 and waits for the runners to return from Scafell
I wake up with a start, dehydrated, hot and confused. ‘Where are the runners? What time is it? Have I over slept?’ Reaching for the phone tucked under my makeshift pillow, I log onto the tracker – it’s fine, the girls have summited Scafell Pike and are in a strong 3rd position in the Three Peaks Yacht Race – no panic, they should be back to the boat in around four hours.
This has been the first sleep over one hour that any of the sailing crew have had since we left Caernarfon yesterday morning – every one of our five crew is being pushed to the absolute limits of endurance.
Since leaving the start line in Barmouth on Saturday we have been plagued by light winds over the whole course. The leg to Caernarfon took nine hours and ended up with an exciting hour as we crossed the bar into the river at midnight, racing down the tiny channel, piloting from buoy to buoy at ten knots over the ground and around 100m behind the boat in 2nd. My stomach was in knots.
We dropped the runners, just as it was getting dark and they ran off to summit Snowdon while we dropped anchor and readied the boat for Leg 2.
The running has been tight, competition on the mountain is hot, but our athletes, Jo and Lowri, have been holding an incredible pace and right now are on their way down from Scafell Pike. They completed Snowdon in 4h 54m, and to put that in perspective it was in the dark, running from the pier to the summit and a distance of over marathon length.
Leg 2 – Caernarfon to Whitehaven
We started Leg 2 in 7th position, but with only 40 minutes separating us and the1st placed boat. The course for this leg is to sail from Caernarfon to Whitehaven via any route chosen. The whole fleet, bar one, chose the shorter distance, to sail through the Menai Straits and we were treated to a light wind tussle against a strong tide all the way to the Britannia bridge.
We approached the Swellies with no wind at all and had to navigate this notorious section of water under oars and yet again my heart was in my mouth as we rowed across an ever-building tide, dodging rocks.
At the beginning of the Three Peaks Race, the team agreed that for the first two legs the runners would do nothing but rest and run – our sailing team, made up of myself, Nikki and Elin, would take all the strain of sailing, rowing and organising the boat to ensure we gave the best possible chance to our runners to perform.
The sailing team managed 1.5 hours sleep at Caernarfon and since then we have been on it for 30 hours with only one or two hours sleep each. The lighter winds have persisted the whole leg and our J/120 Nunatak has required constant attention to keep us moving through the water.
Rowing for six miles
Yesterday we rowed an epic six miles from the Swellies to the end of the Menai Straits, taking it in 20 minute shifts on the oars and desperately trying to get out of the channel before the tide turned again. We managed to pull up to 3rd place on leaving the Straits and sailed out into Liverpool Bay and a big flat expanse of no wind.
For the remaining 80 miles we have been coaxing every ounce of speed out of the boat, changing sails frequently to accommodate the slightest change in wind angle, constantly adjusting settings as the breeze built and dropped off again. As soon as we got on a roll, things would change, never allowing us any time to turn off and just sail.
Through yesterday we managed to climb up to a decent 1st place and then fell back to 3rd as the breeze died inshore in the early hours of the morning. With seven miles to the finish we were once again becalmed with the rest of the fleet in sight on the horizon and it was time to row.
After 30 hours of sailing and no sleep, we dug in to row the final three hours of the race, determined to keep our 3rd position and make it in through the lock gates before the tide made access impossible.
Waiting for the runners – and willing them on
I just woke up from a three-hour sleep. Nikki and Elin woke up at exactly the same time, we have had an update from the runners – they will be back on board in around three hours. We can’t sleep any more, the tension is enormous. They are holding a great pace, but have been overtaken by a couple of the other teams who have incredibly strong athletes.
The leg ahead will be tough: more light winds with challenging geography and tides. We estimate the first boat will have a three-hour lead on us, but we are still very much in the game. The sailing team need to catch the lead boat and then double that lead to keep our girls ahead on the Ben.
We have tidied and checked every inch of the boat, discussed our planning and are now pacing around with lots of nervous energy, willing the running team on. By the time they return they will have cycled from Whitehaven into the heart of the Lake District, run up Scafell Pike and then cycled back to us.
I am suffering from the strangest of feelings, watching our team on a tracker, willing them on, desperately wanting to do something to improve their performance and totally unable to help. Although we had never met before the start of this race we could not have gelled better as a team – I have total respect for every member of Team Aparito, there are no passengers, there are no egos. We are a team of athletes working together, pushing each other to the limits of endurance and it is a great feeling.
This race is far from over; there will be only hours separating us from the following teams as we head for Fort William and I know the conditions ahead will be changeable, providing multiple opportunities for others to get ahead if we make a wrong decision.
Single-handed ocean sailor Pip Hare has clocked up thousands of miles racing and cruising. Among her achievements are five solo transatlantics, including the OSTAR and two Mini Transat races. She also works full-time for the RNLI on sea safety and is Consulting Editor on Yachting World. See her gear test on weather routeing packages
See also Pip’s fascinating series on advanced sailing techniques: SAIL FASTER SAIL SAFER