Team Rho – Three Peaks Yacht Race final race report

Team Rho – Three Peaks Yacht Race final race report

Saturday 16th-Thursday 21st  June 2012

Described quite simply as ‘teams of four or five sail from Barmouth to Fort William, with two of the crew climbing the highest mountains of  Wales, England and Scotland en route’ the Three Peaks Yacht Race is a test of fitness against fatigue. A unique element of the race is the rules allow (in fact, encourage) rowing, which can be of benefit during periods of calm and light airs.

Team Rho took part in this year’s race, finishing in third place overall and second place in the Tilman Trophy – this is a race within the race which requires four of the five crew to go up and down one of the mountain legs of the race.

Post-race, after lots of sleep and tea, Skipper Nick Woolven has written a final race report, see below.
If the race appeals to you and you would like more information about joining Team Rho in 2013, Contact Us.


SKIPPER – Nick Woolven
CREW/RUNNERS – Paul Stacey, Mark Wilshire, Jeremy Bygrave, Karl Cable

Three Peaks Yacht Race 2012
Team Rho Race Report

Skipper: Nick Woolven

Six months of preparation were drawing to an end on Saturday 16th June – which was lucky because the race started at 19:00.  The crew of five listened to the briefings – the Coastguard’s being the only one that got everyone laughing.  Some of the entrants had spent the previous night on the yacht club floor after the harbour ferry were stopped by deteriorating  conditions, causing the Harbour Master to report as the worst he had seen in the harbour.  Fortunately team Rho had turned in early and managed an OK night until a rude awakening at 05:00 when Quickstep’s stern lines chaffed through and she came swung around until she was banging away at Rho’s stern.  Not the ideal start given that we wanted all the sleep we could before the expected 3-5 days of sleepless effort.

The field this year was half the size of last year – possibly due to the inclement weather (at least one boat was unable to make it to the start) and partly due to the recession we hypothesized.   But it was a good year for Sigma’s – one 41, three 38’s and one 33 out of a field of 12 boats.  We were pensive about the other two Sigma 38’s – Mistral of St Helier (Team MCR) and Redcoat (Team Thor) – which seemed to have much more sailing experience.

A steady 25-30 knots of wind pushed the waves up over the sand bar was we left Barmouth – punching into that wind up and over the waves was as much as the  28hp Volvo could do comfortably.  The 3PYR is often very bumpy with sustained periods of light airs.  2012 was no exception as the forecast was for a series of light and “variable” winds after this F5-F7 had blown itself through.  We started with one reef and the number 2 headsail.

The race started at 19:00 with eleven boats heading North of west to cross St Patricks Causeway en route to Bardsey sound – Rho went on the other tack hoping that the wind would veer as forecast to get us around the south end of the causeway on into Bardsey sound first.   This tactic didn’t quite work – as we found ourselves in bigger wind over tide seas and arrived off Abersoch mid-field with an adverse tide to punch all the way down the coast and through Bardsey sound.   However the team got down to a serious short tacking effort as we used back eddies under the cliffs in every bay to haul in another couple of places before midnight.  We continued to short tack through Bardsey and then  set off up the coast of the Llyn Peninsula trying to stay out of the adverse tide as much as possible.

We crossed the bar at Carnarvon at pretty much at low tide – with Quickstep 10 boat lengths in front – Mark and Karl both looked rather green after a night of seasickness – so we as we dropped them off for the 24mile run up and over Snowdon we hoped the food and drink they were forcing down would not reappear.   Rho anchored off and Paul, Jeremy and I tried to get some sleep after we dropped our runners off on the pier and gave the ground crew an ETA for Mark and Karl heading back through Llanberis.  We were the fifth boat into Carnarvon.

Mark and Karl didn’t set any records but did exceptionally well to run approximately 4hrs 30 – very good on empty stomachs and legs, and they managed to overtake the girls who were running for Quickstep, so we left Carnarvon fourth.  Behind Team MCR, Kugel Reflex and Sea Fever.  Sea Fever was still in sight as we sailed up towards Britannia Bridge – the weakened and fickle winds made it hard to keep power in the spinnaker as navigated around the various sand bar and punched the tide.  We caught Sea Fever but were also caught by Quickstep and Stormwind.  We entered and passed through the “swellies” underneath the Britannia and Menai bridges almost four abreast – a passage that is barely wide enough for two boats.  Jeremy’s navigation focussed on keeping Rho on the right track – as the spinnakers filled and emptied repeatedly as the boats blanketed each other.  We passed under the second bridge the last of the four, and back in sixth place, but we had passed though with resorting to the oars only once.

As the estuary widened we tried to use better angles for the spinnaker and to look for any areas of weakened or positive tide – this went well as we started to claw our way back and we overhauled Sea Fever, then Quickstep and finally Stormwind as we got into the sand bars outside Beaumaris.  As we passed Stormwind the wind died and then moved around to the North – the  150% headsail was raised and the spinnaker dropped as we started to tack up past Puffin Island.   Stormwind reeled us in and we went past Puffin Island on different sides of the channel.

Once out in the Irish Sea we made best course to windward against the weak Northerly and slowly started to pulled away from the others chasing after MCR and Kugel Motion, who could not be seen on the horizon.  This was time to eat, for the runners to get their heads down and settle down for the 65 mile night passage to Whithaven – at a steady 7 knots we should be there in the morning.  At midnight however the wind died and Paul and I got the oars out.  The 3PYR is one of the few races were rowing is not only allowed but is encouraged.  Paul and his team at work had done an excellent job producing a new set of sliding seat rowing rigs for this year’s race – and they got plenty of use as we slowly rowed and past the gas rigs off Morecombe Bay and onto towards the huge off shore wind farm off Barrow in Furness.   We had not rowed a Sigma 38 for sustained periods before and we experimented with two rowers and rotating on a single side.  The 150% headsail which was so useful in the light airs the evening before now got annoying as it fouled the leeward rower.  However the main difficulty was the swell that caused continual cramps and consequent chips out of the shins.

We kept plugging away at the rowing until any puff of wind filled the sails and slowly but surely the wind farm got closer.  An hour or so after dawn Mark and Paul reported that we had passed MCR whilst rowing through a puff or two of wind – but Kugel Motion was no where to be seen.    So we were now in second place and first in the Tilman Trophy, as Kugel Motion has dedicated runners (the Tilman Trophy is one of many awards which can be won during the race. To enter this race within the race, four of the five crew members must run up/down a mountain).

By lunchtime Sea Fever was visible and the wind was starting to fill in from the north west, but the remaining 20 miles to St Bees head was taking ages as the tide had turned again and the wind was fickle to say the least.  We rounded St Bees at 15:30, put we knew we were likely to miss the tide at the Whitehaven Sealock.  Jeremy and Karl were ready for an eyeballs out effort on Scafell to try and get less than 7hrs 45mins, but as we radioed forward we had the disappointing by inevitable conversation with Paula the Harbour Master who confirmed that we would have to anchor-up under the North wall.  Kugel Motion who’s runners were on the mountain were now ahead by four hours – as we were not expecting to be able to lock-in until 20:00.    Over the next 3 hrs MCR, Sea Fever, Quickstep and Stormwind all joined us and we all locked-in together at 20:25, but only just as Rho temporarily went aground in the outer harbour.

The rush for the five teams of runners / cyclists to get ashore and up to the check-in caravan was the busiest I had ever seen Whitehaven.  Jeremy and Karl sped off on their cycles mid field whilst Paul, Mark and I berthed the boat and cleared up before getting some sleep.   We kept a watch on progress reports with the marshall’s caravan – lest Jeremy and Karl did a blinding speed and we could get out on the same tide, but all the teams returned and we all left on the same lock-out at about 08:00 in the morning, which at least gave Jeremy and Karl time for a good shower and some food before we set out to sea again.

All five boats set off after Kugel Motion who were reported to be half way between the Mull of Galloway and Corsewall point – 75 miles ahead, but the winds were favourable and the chasing pack were going as fast we could in the light airs.  Rho started to pull ahead slowly and was managing to stay as high as most of the boats and all was well until we handed control over to ‘George’ the auto-helm for 30 minutes – during which we dropped down wind and left us a heavy tack to make it around Turnbull Head.  As we approached Galloway the wind had backed and Rho had managed to sustain a tack since Turnbull – but Sea Fever had gone south and was hot on our heels.   We closed together at Galloway and ran up our spinnaker whilst we thought through the tactics for punching the tides in the North Channel given that we expected the winds to weaken again.    In the end we gybed and fought with Sea Fever all the way to the Firth of Clyde as our boats surfed on a running swell – it was difficult going and we were still in touch with each other as the wind died on our approach to the Mull of Kintyre.

Rho took an inside line toward the Mull and caught positive tide and the first of the Northerly wind which started after the calm.  These got us around the Mull and half a mile in front of Sea Fever, but then the wind died and we set about rowing out to the west to avoid the tide that turned first near Macrahanish.    As dawn came the situation looked familiar – us in front of the pack chasing Kugel Motion who were no where to be seen, but had no wind and our competition who we nearer the coast of Islay seemed to have wind and were rapidly catching us up.  So we carried on rowing and fortunately as all the boat drew level the air was equally weak for all of us and we seemed to have an equally adverse tide.

As the wind started to fill in we set course to get the weakest tide and hoped this wouldn’t be a wind disadvantage – it seemed to work as we pulled ahead on entry to the Sound or Jura and as the adverse tide built we discovered that the tide seems to run at different speeds on each side of the centre ridge.  Once we had switch back to the eastern side we kept our advantage and entered the gulf of Corryvreckan make a direct line for the Sound of Luing under a poorly filled kite.

Many gybes and some rowing later we still had a quarter of a mile advantage in the Sound of Luing but we had no wind and our chasers seemed to be sailing onto us with a front of weak southerly.  Fortunately we made it out into the Firth of Lorn first and before the tide became too adverse.  BeachFox, Storm Wind Quickstep and Sea Fever were hot on our heels and we tried to find lines with the best winds and lest adverse tide.   Rho was now in her element again as the wind settled down to a steady 8 knots from the north, and we managed to get the boat speed back up to 7 knots for a sustained period of time.

Paul and I now needed to start getting out heads down in anticipation of the run up Ben Nevis – so we left Jeremy, Mark and Karl to sail as fast as we could.  The next we knew was a call up onto deck as we approached the Corran Narrows – the lads had done excellently – we had caught Kugel Motion!!  We nudged ahead as we went though the Narrows rowing and sailing as hard as we could against the adverse tide, but we made it though just, as had Kugel Motion and Quickstep.

Paul and I got our heads down again and left the watch to the race for Corpach.

Listening from below the previously fickle winds had changed into maximum buggeration set of eddies and each of which had such light force the chaps really struggled in a set of 360 degree bear-aways and rapid tacking, which was very difficult with the 150% headsail.   Suffice it to say that the Kugel Motion’s Reflex 38 and Quickstep’s Contessa 33 both faired better than Rho.  It took Rho 3 and half hours to cover the 10 miles from Corran, Kugel M was 40 minutes quick and Quickstep was about 20 secondss quicker to buoy where racing stops and the motors can be used.   Rho’s engine would not start so we rowed onto the Pontoon – giving Quickstep about 12 minutes lead for their runners.  Eventually at first light Paul and I ran up the pontoon gangway for the 5 minute kit inspections – then we were off to try and catch Quickstep’s svelte lady runners, Sophie and Nicola.   We started out steadily and then opened up the pace on the 4 miles of road into the bottom of Ben Nevis – we started uphill steadily but although we pushed hard up the hill we met the runners from Kugel Motion as they were half way own the zigs-zags and Quicksteps just as went over the lip onto the summit plateau.   We dashed up to the summit and stamped our cards, then headed down, but we had had not clawed back much of the 15mins and as we descended we saw the teams in Sea Fever, Stormwind and Beach Fox – and we had only had 15mins over Stormwind – and their runners looked handy.   We pushed hard on the run out and managed some strides for the last 200m, but we had to settle for third overall and second behind Quickstep in the Tilman.    Kugel Motion’s runners were blistering quick and Quickstep had sailed an excellent last leg – we had only been beaten by some excellent competition.

Medals, warm drinks, showers and food all followed whilst we sorted out the boat and planned to get our heads down before the party in the evening.   It was a very relaxing and jovial affair and the team had just enough energy to sink a few pints.
Nick Woolven
29 June 2012.