Wednesday, 23 June 2010
We need to just prepare mentally for the run and in for it.
This blog post was temporarily suspended while the martins were transferred to rowing duties and we pulled a few hugies to get us into a patch of wind. In some ways we are motor sailing fired by the copham 1 cylinder or the martins 2 cylinder. There are eco engines fired by pasta and, soon, porridge. I am on porridge cooking duties once this post is over. Gary has been on the meths and the burner is now ready for us.
The absolute priority at the moment for us is to row. If the boat speed falls below our chosen minimum we row. We are learning how to motor sail eads innovation works on the copham 1 cylinder. They don't teach you how to do this at sailing school.
The next objective is porridge. After that we look to the corran narrows and the finishing straight to corpach. Martin and i then have ben nevis to think about but we are psyched.
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Torbellino as visible in the distance. They come in and out of relief as the visibility changes.
We think we are doing quite well at the rowing. I like rowing with piers. We seem to have a rowing rapport. Martin also seems to row stylishly. We all row from time to time. We have an unofficial target speed below which we row. At the moment we are sailing again with a wind direction 180 degrees away from where it was 15 minutes ago. We rowed into this patch of wind. We know when we have hit the wind as the boat starts to heel over. The oarsman on the leeward side then needs to feather their oars: some of us learned to do this years ago, others are learning on the job.
We have little idea when we will arrive in corpach so just keep going. At the moment the conversation centres around how to traverse the sound of luing. Gary has just got up and seems suspicious that he is destined for another night shift. This seems to be his speciality.
Most of the sailing today has been quite chilled out in the sunshine. We think we are still reasonably ahead of the rest of the fleet but we never know when this might change and we haven't allowed ourselves to raise our hopes too much yet. Things are certainly looking better than they did when we were in the middle of the fleet tacking round bardsey.
The runners have been having a minor inquest on what happened on scafell pike. We felt like we ran well but the cycling let us down. Giving that when i sat on my iron steed at whitehaven it was the first time i had been on a bike since last year's three peaks yacht race there is clear scope for am improvement in my performance here. I need to address this. We do not know for sure wat the scafell pike result was. We know it was close.
We are thinking of our running strategy on ben nevis. Things really depend on how the sailing goes. We suspect that we could do better than last year if we really pushed it but will have to decide what the risk vs reward balance is when we get to corpach.
I am trying to sleep but am finding it hard. The best i seem to be able to do is to relax with the ipod on.
Monday, 21 June 2010
We seen to have a fan club composed of members of my family. We saw my nieces and their mum and dad at various headlands along the lleyn peninsula. While we were anchored off whitehaven i got a text message from my mum saying that she was waiting for us in whitehaven. She met us as we pulled alongside and then at the marshalls' control point on the dock side. She had spent the night waiting for us in her car until 3:30am which was really sweet and showed real commitment to the cause.
The start of the run was inauspicious. The run starts with an 18 mile bike ride for which bikes are useful. We were carrying our bikes on board and with eads innovation works being so small we did not have space to fully assemble them before we set off. Assembly took longer than expected with gary frantically tending to bikes: a whirlwind of spanners and pumps. Despite his best efforts we exceeded our scrutineering time and ate into our mountain time.
The cycling itself just seemed like hard work. It just felt uphill all the way which in reality it was. We took 1h22m on the bikes: probably longer than any previous year.
Walking was pretty desperate after the biking let alone running. We did get into a post of rhythm on the uphill track to black sail youth hostel, getting there in just over 30 minutes. A stiff climb up to black sail pass on heavy legs and i run down the other side say us at wasdale head. Wasdale head was packed with minibuses of teams doing the three peaks challenge (where the same peaks are climbed but you drive between them: it doesn't take quite as long as our three peaks yacht race!). Everyone seemed to be having fun: maybe not the ones hobbling. The other three peakers helped us in the fog as their banter helped us find the route in the fog. It was a hard slog up but we were rewarded not only with the checkpoint but also sunshine above the clouds. We descended carefully getting back to wasdale head 1h50m after setting off up from there: this seemed like a reasonable run to us and bang on our prediction. More painful running over black sail pass and then some quite good running down ennerdale saw us to the youth hostel with an overall running time of 4h22m.
The bike ride back started with a vicious hill that took the wind out of us. After this it was downhill all the way. We took the same time on the way back as the way out. This was probably caused by the hill that shall not be mentioned and a puncture (that martin swiftly repaired).
The sailors met us at the dock and we moved quickly onto the boat, slipped the lines and heade for the lock. After a little wait we were in the lock. The lock dropped and we were out. I could barely watch as we chugged through the harbour. This was where elation turned into despair when we grounded in 2008. I saw the depth sounder bottom out at 0.1m: 10cm below the keel. There was relief when the depth increased and we passed through the harbour walls: we were out.
We were the only boat to make it out on the tide: although a boat called the dockers made an attempt about an hour after us. I think their attempt was doomed to failure as they had 30cm more keel than us and the tide would have receded. We are now sailing nicely at about 5 knots towards the mull of galloway. The lake district is receding into the distance. It is unlikely that any of the other boats will have left yet but we know that they will be chasing us down. We just have to sail as well as we can and ride our luck, hoping they don't catch us before corpach. We are being philosophical about our chances.
My fan club is continuing to support us. We saw my nieces in wales prior to there ascent of snowdon and mum met us at whitehaven at 3am. It is great having this support.
Coverage is about to run out...
The race will start again in whitehaven but now it is a running race. There will be maybe 5 teams starting at the same time on the scafell pike leg. This will provide a good race on the hill. Out overriding concern is to get back to whitehaven while there is still enough water in the harbour on the falling tide. Realistically this means we have 7h30m to get up and down. We are confident we can do this if we run well. We thought we had managed to pull this trick 2 years ago but we grounded in the outer harbour. This year we intend for things to be different.
We have had a good sail over from caernarfon. There has been enough wind to keep up 6 or more knots on a close reach. Eads innovation works has been sailing beautifully. She is a small boat but a real gem. Piers and gary have been doing a long stint on deck helming and pulling strings. Geoff has now taken over in the small hours. I can here the round of the anchor being prepared so we must be right by whitehaven harbour.
eads innovation works is an x99 yacht. On paper the other yachts in the leading groups should be quicker than us. We do have several advantages. We have a relatively shallow draught: we can get in and out of harbours at more states of the tide. We are light and easier to row. Maybe these attributes can keep us ahead if we are able to get out of whitehaven on the same tide and others can't. If we do manage to pull this trick we know that the rest of the fleet will hunt us down mercilessly.
We have one more hour's sleep before the fun begins!
Sunday, 20 June 2010
After the swellies we navigated carefully between the buoys out into the irish sea. The wind has built and we are now sailing quite nicely towards whitehaven. Anglesey is receding into the distance. The welsh mountains are poking out of the clouds in the distance.
We are going to be out of mobile coverage for a while now and the phone battery is running low. Piers is going to rewire eads innovation works so my phone will be useable in the future. The phone is really useful both for the blog and for communicating with the crew towards the end of a run. We need to wake them up at the end of a run so they will have the boat ready to set off as soon as we get back.
Next stop whitehaven in maybe 12 hours time.
The conditions on the hill were really great. We started along the road just before dawn and started up the hill in the cool of the morning. As we were approaching the summit we saw the sun glinting off the upper slopes of the mountain's east face. On the run down we had a cloud inversion so there were blue skies above us and there was a blanket of fluffy white clouds beneath us. There are really special conditions.
The run back along the road from llanberis was a drag as ever but we showed good courage and stodged out the miles. A disappointment was that our water stash that we had preplaced on the road to caernarfon was no longer there. Our run back was thus quite thirsty.
We are now battling against the tide in the menai straits. This might take some time!
Saturday, 19 June 2010
Once round the tip we have been close tacking round little headlands and into sandy bays. It was a thrill to see our fan club in one of the bays: my nieces emma, laura and kate and their mum and dad. We say them waving from the shore (really not that far away) and waved back between flinging the jib across as we tacked.
We are now in about 6th position. The run is about to set into a cloudless horizon and we need to sleep before the run which should start in the small hours of the morning.
There was a fair breeze at the start but this soon died off and we came to a stop in the waves created by some motor boats at the start-as did most of the rest of the fleet. We briefly had the oars out and were the first crew to get the spinnaker out but both were soon stowed as we all hit a pretty brisk force 5 northerly.
We've had a wet couple of hours sitting with our legs over the side of the boat to try to keep her upright to balance the force of the sails with the weight of the boat. We are now close to bardsey sound at the western tip of the lleyn peninsula. We are trying to work out whether we want more sail up or less as the wind is changing strength from moment to moment. Our boat seems quite happy to have the full sail up with geoff at the helm so maybe we will stick with that.
We are probably about 4 hours from caernarfon and so will probably climb snowdon in the dark. We think a lot of the boats will get caught in the tides at the swellies after the snowdon run. We are thus not overly worried about not being near the lead on the water at the moment.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Last year's race was something of an epic event. Sailing and running races can develop into epics when there is either too much wind or no wind at all. The windy epics are white knuckle rides with the runners gingerly watching the sailors control a racing yacht surfing down big waves with a massive spinnaker up: the sailors nervously walking the tightrope between speed and instability. The windless epics turn into cat and mouse games trying to catch little wafts of wind by luck, judgement or by the physical exertion of rowing between the wind patches. Last year's race was essentially windless. I think we won it partly by sheer determination on the rowing.
Is a bigger boat always a better boat? Usually, yes. The critical word is "usually". In light wind conditions in the Three Peaks Yacht Race, smaller boats could have an advantage. When a boat cannot achieve "hull speed", when size matters, lightness matters. Tactix is a light boat. When you have to row, the less boat you have to slug through the water, the faster you'll go. This year we've taken a punt on conditions and have chosen to race in Tactix, a light X-99 type racing yacht. Tactix is 32ft in length and will be one of the smaller yachts in the fleet.
We have been much more fastidious in preparations this year. In May, some of the sailors and runners sailed and ran the Scottish Islands Peaks Race (Mull, Jura and Arran). We got quite a few ideas from this race and ironed out some of the potential problems with both Tactix and the way we live on Tactix (it is important to be able to live well on the boat in order to preserve strength of both body and mind in an endurance race). I fell in love with Tactix on this race. She's an absolutely fantastic racing yacht.
We rowed for long distances on the Scottish Islands Peaks Race, giving us ideas about how to battle against the calm conditions that we're hoping for in order to do well on Tactix. One great idea Geoff had was to enlist Piers Copham into the crew. Piers is a great all rounder, being both a sailor, rower and runner. Piers has been busy applying himself to optimising Tactix's rowing ergonomics. As a national-standard oarsman, Piers needs a tip-top rowing set up on board and has been making visits to Tactix with saws, wood and drills in hand. With a national standard oarsman and an ex-university rower on board, we are hoping to make good rowing progress this year.
The two runners (Martins Beale and Indge) have been competing in the Runfurther UK ultra-running championships and are feeling both confident and nervous at the prospect of the running stages. Snowdon was recce-d the Sunday before the race. Scafell PIke and Ben Nevis have also been climbed recently.
Geoff, Gary and Piers are our primary sailors. Geoff owns Tactix and knows her well. I'm hoping that he has become akin to Tactix's massive new kevlar-reinforced mainsail during the Scottish Islands Peaks Race. It is unlikely that we'll be under-canvassed in this race! Gary and Geoff have been planning tactics for the race and are meeting up on Thursday night in Barmouth to make the final sailing preparations. As past winners in the race, I know they'll be keen to give things a really good shot this time.
A little story from the preparations....
I visited Tactix last week in Barmouth harbour. I needed to go and take some measurements for Piers. It was getting late in the day and the water taxi service was not operating (due to the late hour). I used my own dinghy (from my yacht, Cervisia) to get out there. It was an extremely exciting affair (in a small blow-up dinghy). A spring tide was rushing into the harbour: it looked like a fast flowing river. I aimed well upstream of Tactix and paddled like mad. As I was paddling across, I could see my upstream advantage being rapidly eroded as the tide was rushing up the estuary towards Dolgellau. I landed pretty much spot on top of Tactix, which I was most relieved about: a happy combination of brute paddling force and good judgement. I spent more than an hour on Tactix. This was both to measure up for Piers and to wait for the tide to abate. As the sun was setting, I plucked up the courage to head back to dry land. The tide was still like a maelstrom and I was getting washed towards the Barmouth railway bridge despite my paddling efforts. At the level of the last boat in the harbour, I got out of the tidal stream and felt so relieved as I calmly paddled through the calm water to the slipway and safety. I've never had quite such excitement with a tape measure before!