Three Peaks Yacht Race – Leg Two – Scafell

Pulling away from the pier head in Caernafon we felt like heroes.  Leg one had been a step into the unknown yet we had conquered our doubts, sailed almost exactly to the plan and somehow managed to keep ahead on the land. The next few hours would be challenging but my head was bubbling with unrealistic  optimism, and I happily imagined us gliding through the Menai straits on the last north going tide and into the morning sun to Whitehaven.

The minute we passed the starting mark, our spinnaker went up gently takings its shape in a fickle breeze. We had one hour of positive tide to make four miles to the Swellies then the tidal gate would firmly shut.  As the river twisted and turned trimmed and changed between sails to match the changing wind directions at each bend. We moved around the boat on tip toes and pulled lines with even gentle movements so as not collapse sails and to eek out every decimal of speed we could.

Though I felt fine, alert and awake, we both knew how important rest following our Snowdon marathon was going to be.  We needed to eat, sleep, stretch and try to allow our bodies some sort of recovery time before the next land stage, which would be more than eight hours of solid exercising.  Taking it in turns we changed out of wet running gear and ate and drank where ever possible but until we had cleared the Menai Straits the sailing would be intense and relentless; two people would be required on deck most of the time so sleeping was out of the question.

Looking back down the river we could see competitors picking up their runners then following us on the river.  In the dark with no sign of any other runners behind we had felt confident of our lead but the dawn gave a new perspective.  The boats behind us were less than half a mile away on the water – at 5 knots of boat speed this would only take 6 minutes to cover. Their sailors had slept and were refreshed, our position was fragile.

As we made slow progress up the river, the tidal gate through the Swellies started to close. The current first stopped, then started to flow against our heading, slowing our progress further until we would reach an inevitable stop. We discussed the option of picking up a mooring buoy and sleeping until the turn of the tide but with three boats now chasing us down neither Charles nor I could stomach the idea of letting them sail straight past or the outside chance they would get through the Swellies against the tide and establish an unassailable lead.

We plugged on and the sun rose higher creating heat that threatened to kill what little breeze we had. Creeping forward under spinnaker holding our lead we passed under the Britannia Bridge on the East side of the channel and entered the Swellies.

For those not familiar with this stretch of water, the Swellies it is a formidable stretch of the Menai Straits between the two bridges that join Anglesley to Mainland Wales.  The passage passes through an assortment of rocky obstacles around which a ferocious tide (which can sometimes reach 8 knots) flows.  Without exception all sailing directions advise making passage through the area only at High Water slack and under engine.  We were doing neither.

Choosing the advised route for transit we tucked Nunatak into the shoreline still flying the spinnaker.  The tide built and we slowed to a stop, then started to move backwards as our progress through the water became slower than the speed of the water itself rushing in the opposite direction. In slow motion we were being swept backwards towards the bridge we had just passed under.

There was no option but to carry on sailing.  To collapse the spinnaker at this time would mean losing all control, risking knocking the mast against one of the bridge spans if the water forced us back under at a point not high enough for the mast.  We had to concentrate, to keep trimming, gybing, steering with a racing intensity, never mind the fact we had now been awake for over 24 hours and run a marathon over night.  The bad news was we could possibly be in this state of high alert for another six hours.  Any thoughts of sleeping needed to be banished.

As we struggled against the adverse tide, our competitors, Moby J, White Cloud and Wight Rose sidled up behind us, in the lesser tide leading up to the bridge.  We watched them edge forward, one boat dropped its anchor taking the option we had rejected.  The other two ploughed on but chose to pass under the span on the west of the channel. This is not the recommended route for passing through the straits and could potentially have more current than to the East, however the wind seemed to be cleaner and soon they were making good ground on our position.

What then followed was hours of cat and mouse play in the full flow of the Swellies.  They went forward on the west of the channel, we sat still to the East.  They advanced further and seemed be making headway so we crabbed our way across to join them.  We sat sailing in endless circles, being cruelly played with by the elements.  The wind would blow just a little bit stronger, allowing us to make progress up the shore in shallow water, then the channel would deepen and the boats bow would be hit by a torrent of water as the main flow of tide washed us back to where we had come from.  Effectively we were sailing through rapids and I thought back to the swift water rescue training I had at the RNLI looking for where the current might be reversed in back eddies and trying to use them to our advantage.

Another boat threw in the towel and Moby J picked up a mooring buoy in the lee of a rocky island.  We jealously watched as they basked in the cockpit, watching the show; I imagined the runners tucked up in beds down below resting weary limbs comfortable in the knowledge someone else was responsible for getting them out of this hell.

Following a good hour of circling Charles and I decided to head back to the East side of the channel just to maintain some sort of sanity.  The stakes seemed higher to the West, the tide was faster, there were more rocks to be swept into, we were starting to tire and feeling on edge.

We watched from our stationary but stable position as White Cloud tried and tired again to get through the rapid flow of water then eventually got just enough wind to make it past the island and slowly sailed from sight around the bend.  It was a hard pill to swallow but we had to let go; tired people make mistakes and we had such a lot of race still to come.

Eventually it was our turn, we slowly crept up the shore in the shallowest water possible then had just enough breeze to move around the bend and the second bridge was in sight.  White Cloud was gone but we had a comfortable second place and steadily made our way to the Menai Bridge and out of the other side.

Making our way up the Anglesey side of the river and were met by Jon our shore crew who had made a detour to cheer us on before heading back to work on the South Coast, the others were asleep in a car park somewhere recovering from their nights activities.  His cheerful waves gave our tired minds a boost but still I was envious of all of these people sleeping.  My turn seemed a long way off.

As happens twice in every day time the tide turned and we were swept out into the Irish sea and a wind that dropped away to nothing. Finally there was enough sea room for one of us to go off watch and Charles went down first while I tried to keep Nunatak going.  The day was hot and there was only 2-3 knots of wind.  The rest of the fleet started to emerge behind us as the strong currents spat them out of the Menai straits to where we were sitting and waiting.  The sea was flat and silky, the sails hung limply.  Nunatak was going nowhere fast.  I imagined some of the crews may be rowing in these conditions but this would just not be a good game plan for a double handed attempt.  We need to rest and recover; to get the most we could out of the wind but to admit that in these conditions we may struggle to keep up.

Miserably stuck in a wind hole we looked to the East and saw competitors starting to over take us.  From our position wallowing in the West it seemed impossible to stop the rot. There is no amount of rationalisation that will take away the feelings of disappointment when this happens and as over optimistic as one can be there is a flip side of despair that will gnaw away at tired sailors stuck in the doldrums.

Our initial strategy had been to stay within the same tidal cycle as the lead boats; the lock in Whitehaven was only accessible during an average eight hour window spanning high tide.  If we missed that window and other boats got it may put them so far ahead we may not be able to catch them again on the sailing leg to Ben Nevis.

The hot day turned into evening and finally some breeze appeared and with it a new optimism we would make it.  Sailing through the night we slept when possible but changing conditions required us both to be on deck often.  The autopilot fix had failed on leaving the Menai straits so still it was not easy to make manoeuvres single handed.

Morning came and the wind died, we were less than five miles from our destination  with our ETA going up while the breeze withered away.  White Cloud made it in through the lock, their runners were off to ScaFell and all chances of staying in the same tidal gate were rapidly disappearing.

Once in range our phones started to buzz. The shore crew were there, super charged, waiting for us to arrive so they could leap into action, they had been joined by Mike and Pam, previous owners of Nunatak and 3 peaks yacht race veterans. It was a welcome distraction to speak with them about the next leg and a great relief to know every step had been planned, the lock keepers had agreed that Paul could join us in the lock to take over driving, making the transition to shore smoother. There was another autopilot ram to fit, our bikes were prepped, running food had been prepared although avocados seemed to be in short supply in Whitehaven and we were given regular updates on other crews and the gossip from across the race course.

Wight Rose in a last ditch effort to get into the lock had run aground and was now dried out on its side in front of the lock.  Moby J had arrived and were doubtless enjoying some more of that wonderful sleep.  We had only managed five hours each since the race morning now over 48 hours ago.

We arrived at the finish line, took our time and then joined the crews waiting to get into the lock.  It was a meltingly hot day and I made a conscious effort to drink water whenever I was able to get some down fearing the effects of dehydration further down the line.

ScaFell was going to be a mission.  When we recce’d the course in May it had been a hot day and we had managed to make the return trip up the mountain in less than 9 hours.  From Whitehaven we needed to cycle some 20 miles along a dedicated cycle route to the Blacksail Pass Youth hostel. From there we would transition to running and climb over the 400m Blacksail pass then drop down to sea level again for the Wassdale head check point.  Then we would ascend the 950m ScaFell, and retrace our steps back to the bikes and Whitehaven.

This would be at least 9 hours of exercise and with the effects of the previous days marathon still holding our legs back. For me it was also the first time I would have attempted back to back marathon distance running.

By the time the lock gates opened we were ready wearing packed rucksacks and the butterflies were once again rioting in my stomach.  I stepped off the boat and away from responsibility, as before my only objective was to just keep going; all logistics, pacing, repairs, navigation and thinking was now going to be taken over by an uber organised shore crew and Charles.

Arriving at the marshals desk my bike was there, ready with shoes and food for the ride.  The atmosphere was upbeat and happy, the race officials were kind and impressed by our efforts to date. ScaFell would be tough but I knew what to expect and was confident we could make it back but not sure in what sort of shape I would be.

The initial ride out of Whitehaven was good, I tucked into Charles’ back wheel and enjoyed the ride along an easy cycle path to the hills.  About half an hour in the Wight Rose runners came storming past us on their way out, they were clearly on a mission to recover from earlier sailing set backs but took the time to congratulate our efforts before powering their way through.

At our first meet up with the shore crew and it was evident they had taken race support to another level.  Lou and Ash were waiting in the car park at Ennerdale around two thirds of the way down the cycle route with a table laid out with every type of food we had mentioned we might like.  All items were available to eat now or take away in small bags, avocado and marmite sandwiches as requested were cut into bite size thirds , there was water or electrolyte bottles to swap onto our bikes and an exactly drinking temperature cup of tea for us both.  Just thinking about it now makes me smile.  Meanwhile Paul was back in his little locker once again fixing the autopilot.  We were lucky people.

The run to Wassdale head went well, knowing what to expect made a huge difference, Charles took my pack at the transition point and I carried my water bottle.  Being familiar with the route Charles knew were the next available water would be from mountain streams so we developed a pattern where i carried just enough water to get me to the next filling point, when he would run ahead and fill the bottles up then catch me up if needed.  This way we always minimised the weight to carry but did not run the risk of dehydration. Anything to make this easier for me.

We were focussed on making the ScaFell summit before dusk, the quickest decent down this summit was off road, fell running style and it would be essential for me to make this section in daylight when i had the confidence to navigate the uneven ground with speed.

We were cheerful and had good pace descending Black Sail pass in good time and arrived at the Wasdale head check point to find once again our runners cornucopia laid out with treats and two cups of tea.  There was a compulsory five minute stop at this checkpoint so we chatted with our shore crew and got news of the other teams.  We had passed White Clouds runners coming back on the cycle out from Whitehaven, Moby J and White Rose were ahead of us but the Army team had been in the next lock behind us and we expected them to pass us at any moment.

Released from our stop we headed up ScaFell, it was hot and hard going, the ascent was steep and relentless but I put my head down visualising the top, knowing it was closer with every step.

The light slowly drained from the sky and the first feelings of worry started to hover around my head about making that decent in darkness.  Snowdon had been reasonably easy, the railway track offered an even gradient and surface to negotiate in the dark. However the quick route down Sca Fell offered no path, it would be a straight down the side approach requiring full concentration, it had taken a lot of focus and energy on the recce in full daylight and i had arrived at the bottom with thighs burning from the strain.  At night there is not way i would be able to repeat that performance.

Finally making the summit the sky all around was pink and orange with the remnants of what must have been a beautiful sunset. The heat had drained out of the day and the air was still.  We turned to descend through a spikey boulder field racing the fading light.  As we ran off the summit we bumped into the Army team, asking us to confirm the path to the top.  Charles exchanged encouragement and advice while i carried on anxious to get any extra distance covered possible.  We hit the decent, racing the light down the steep grassy mountainside.

Once again my world shrank to the back of Charles’ heals.  My eyes tracked and mentally recorded where his feet has landed and I followed not lifting my head utterly resigning all attempts at decision making.  When he got too far ahead I called to slow down his progress knowing that the minute I raised my gaze trying to pick my own route the brakes would be on.  I imagined it was like finding your way through an endless sea of waves in a speeding yacht under spinnaker.  I have spent so long at sea picking my lines across oceans its comfortable for me and second nature. But here on the hills I was out of my element, I was not used to this type of running and in a failing light my confidence and ability to find the right line would be low and slow.  It was much easier to trust Charles implicitly and just follow.

We descended at good speed, so focussed on the task in hand I hardly noticed time or the fading light, and running the final foothills back to Wasdale head I felt upbeat and confident. The shore crew welcomed us back with more gossip and tea.  Apparently their table of delights had been a big hit with other passing teams who had helped themselves on the way through everyone highly amused by the provision of tea which Charles and I always accepted with appreciation.  I didn’t feel hungry but took some food to eat and we re-ascended Black Sail pass.

It was now properly dark and climbing another 400m ascent the effects of the previous two and a half days started to weigh down my legs.  I knew I needed to eat, still we had another two or more hours of exercise to finish but the sandwich got stuck in my mouth, my stomach cramped and I felt sick.  I was reaching the limits of my energy and my body seemed unable to accept any attempts to top back up.

Descending Black Sail pass was slow and difficult, my was agonisingly slow forcing Charles to patiently wait, seemingly still in good form.  My tired legs and tired mind were not match for the  intimidating, steep and technical decent in the dark.  My inner voices told me I was wasting time and the army team would appear behind us at any moment but there was no way i could push my body on.  I had reached a limit which was not going to be surpassed.

We made it to the bikes, swapped clothes and shoes then launched into an off road decent, our bike headlamps lighting the way as we sped through the night dodging potholes and rocks, trying not to skid on the gravel.  I got back some mojo, feeling back in my element on the bike in the dark.   As we transitioned onto the road Ash and Lou were waiting with more tea and the story that Lou had attended to another teams runner who they found by the side of the road suffering from a suspected heart attack.

As we left the van and started the final cycle back my body was in its 9th our of exercise and really started to shut down. I struggled up the hills my energy at rock bottom, the final and biggest hill was too much of a challenge and so we dismounted and walked to the top where Ash and Lou were once again waiting with enthusiastic encouragement which only just registered, in my flagging morale and tight focus on the finish.  The night was cooling rapidly and our clothes which had previously been sweat drenched from high temperature ascents wicked any last remaining heat from our bodies as we cycled along.  Now my inner dialogue was an angry rant, I was exhausted and uncomfortable, this was a stupid thing to have attempted, it was not fun, it was not fulfilling, I was putting myself through a new kind of pain for what? I chastised my stupid, competitive nature wondering why just doing the race as a normal team hadn’t been enough.  I never considered quitting but silently vowed to myself i would never do anything like this again.

Joining the cycle path to Whitehaven I had lost all feeling in my hands, I struggled to work the brakes or change gears as my fingers would not do as they were told.  I didn’t call for Charles to stop, I was mesmerised by the road in front and hanging on to his back wheel. My brain had gone into energy saving mode, my head was slowly drooping and my eyes closing.  The bike wobbled, adrenaline charged through my veins, I regained control and realised that just for a micro second I had actually nodded off.

Almost straight away Charles who had been oblivious to my snooze stopped in the track and insisted we put on jackets and gloves, chastising himself for not stopping and doing it earlier.  My hands were so cold I could not undo the buckles on my rucksack and we lost precious minutes as I fumbled with its contents trying to pull on gloves, but it didn’t matter.  All that mattered now was getting back in one piece.  It had been the toughest leg of the race and we were near the finish.  To fall off now would be foolish rather than unlucky.

We arrived in Whitehaven just after two in the morning to another warm and happy welcome.  Once again the boat was prepped, ready to go with a new autopilot ram in place which had been tested in the confines of the Whitehaven Dock.  Lou gave us both the medical once over and provided ice packs for my sore achilles with pain killers and anti-inflammatories.  Paul had been out and bought Pizza and chips which had been warmed through in the boats oven until they had the consistency of plywood but still tasted great.

We sat in the boat, feeling victorious and happy knowing that the absolute worst had been conquered. We had finished the leg in the same tidal cycle as all but one of our competitors, the daily telegraph cup for first past the post may have slipped out of our reach but we could still challenge for a top three line honours result.  We would be strong on the sailing and it was still all to play for.

Ash eventually called time on our team bonding session pointing out we only had three and a half hours before the lock gates would open and we needed to get some sleep before it was show time again.  We were 72 hours into the race, two mountains down, 15 hours of exercise and only five hours of sleep each; we would expect another two and a half before setting off again and sailing to Scotland.

Three Peaks Yacht Race – Leg one – A step into the unknown

In these times of instant sharing it may seem odd that I did not immediately blog about our race, rounding things off in a neat package.  I hope that smile on my face at the finish line gave a true reflection of how I felt at that moment; but after the immediate and incredible elation, life returns so quickly to normal and I have struggled to find words that would  play back the race in any realistic form. On the page it all looks so flat.

Competing double handed in the 3 peaks yacht race was the hardest thing I have ever done. I thought about it constantly for the whole preceding year. I fretted endlessly when I was not able to run for weeks due to trans-Atlantic sailing. When I was on the land I became obsessed with daily mileage, often running twice a day and commuting by foot instead of driving or cycling. I was burning through a pair of trainers nearly every month. I worried about letting Charles down. The sailing did not daunt mem but the running haunted every idle thought.

When you make such a deep emotional investment in an event then after the finish there is bound to be a vacuum. You know you have done something incredible, you are proud but the actual event feels a million miles away; like it is in a fog behind you. It has taken me a while to even consider trying to put all of that into words.

That said I think it is time and I am writing up the race in three parts because now I am ready there are one hell of a lot of words.  So grab yourself a nice cup of tea, put your feet up and come and relive our epic three peaks race.

Leg One

It’s a long time since I have been sick with nerves at a race start, but I came down with it badly 48hrs before the gun. I had arrived two days early with our boat, J120 Nunatak, to get the safety scrutineering out of the way. Charles and the rest of the team would be arriving from Friday onwards .  I knew Nunatak reasonably well having skippered her to a Line honours victory with a fantastic all female crew the previous year so this was a shake down, re-familiarisation trip.  The delivery trip flagged up some problems with the autopilot so when Charles and Paul, one of our amazing shore team, arrived we quickly put Paul to work in a small locker at the back of the boat to try and figure out the cause.  Little did he realise how familiar he would be with that locker by the end of the race.

The rest of the shore team arrived with our crew van at midnight and the following morning we sat down together for the first time and talked through the grand plan.

In order to compete double handed in the 3 peaks yacht race we had submitted a logistical plan to the race committee explaining how we would deal with situations where being in a team of two would be challenging or impossible.  From the beginning it was evident we needed a top notch shore team and plenty of them to make this race a success: to take control of the boat while we were ashore, carry out any repairs and prepare for the next leg as well as support on the runs in the form of food, drink and a medical care if necessary. We discussed in detail where we would meet and what we would need making our best estimates of timings both on the water and the mountains.

Motoring to the start line my stomach was in knots, I had nervous twitches and felt sick, this double handed attempt really would be a step into the unknown.  Both Charles and I agreed neither of us was on top physical form but the dice had been rolled; there was no more time to prepare and now we just had to get on and do it. To do what no one had ever achieved before in the 40th anniversary of this classic race.

The start gun went and we agreed to sail a competitive but strategic leg acknowledging the fact we had a different challenge ahead to other teams.  Nunatak charged off, sitting comfortably in second place.  The sailing was simple for a double handed crew, with an easy to manage sail plan and a fast sailing for our boat.  We trimmed, steered and strategised about our first running leg.  At Bardsey sound it was time to put the spinnaker up, and it struck us both with a jolt that Charles and I had never actually sailed double handed on Nunatak together.  To add to matters the autopilot was not working, the wind got up to 20 knots and we were sailing through over falls, the rough water making everything just a bit more edgy.

We talked it through then went for it, both running round the deck swapping between roles, successfully becoming the first boat in the fleet to get a spinnaker up and moved into the lead.  No sooner was this challenge conquered we desperately needed to gybe and Nunatak was death rolling with passion. We sat for a while out in the tide, trying to stabilise the boat and wondering if we should just notch things down a bit and stay offshore in the foul tide to avoid excessive gybing.  Our competitive natures just wouldn’t run with that idea so with Charles on the helm and me running round like a nutter we went for it.  Pulling off the gybe with heart rates racing we glanced behind, Nunatak was extending the lead.

Now confident in our teamwork we gybed in and out of the coast eating up the miles towards the Caernafon Bar.  It now looked like a daylight arrival, which was a great bonus, and as time ticked down we discussed the list of things that needed to be done before our first run: eating but not too late, changing from sailing kit to running gear but not too early, navigating the narrow channel across changing sails from spinnaker to code zero.  The timing on this sail change was critical; the later we made it the greater the gains, but as the channel narrowed and navigation became more complicated any mistakes could cost us heavily.  We discussed and verbally rehearsed manoeuvres agreeing where we sat on that sliding scale of risk and reward.

As Nunatak ploughed on under spinnaker we took it in turns to eat, packed our rucksacks and laid out running kit. I forced down food to a nervous stomach that really didn’t want it. We talked through our entry to the channel, in minute detail noting every individual action, who would do it, how long it would take.  Without an autopilot we were down to 1.5 crew.  We talked through the plan again.

On approaching the channel we had around half a mile lead on the boat behind and my hands and legs were constantly moving and twitching with nervous energy.  If we got it wrong we were in danger of running aground, damaging the boat, dropping a sail in the water the least of our worries was being overtaken.

When the time came we made the drop and swapped to the code zero like we’d been doing it for years. A quick right turn at the corner of the channel and we were away Nunatak was blistering along at 8 knots and the end of the sailing leg was insight.

We took it in turns to change and put on our backpacks so we would be immediately ready to jump off.  Looking over my shoulder I saw Wight Rose – the nearest competition – on its side, with the sails down, clearly aground.  Thanking fate that we had not had the same misfortune we passed the finish mark with a comfortable lead.

Arriving into Caernafon pier at full speed, the shore crew were there ready and clearly excited by our initial efforts.  The plan was for Ash and Paul to jump onto Nunatak and take command while Charles and I jumped off and leaving Jon to look after us on the run.  Lou would be arriving later with some parts for the autopilot.

We pulled up to the pier, strong hands grabbed Nunatak’s shroud and I put the engine into reverse. It stopped.

Charles was already off – I looked at Ash who was hanging on to the boat.  ‘The engine stopped’ I said. I reached down and started the engine again, it ran but when I put it into gear it stopped.

I was frozen to the spot.  I had a creeping feeling that I knew the problem, but just couldn’t compute walking off the boat and leaving our shore team to deal with it.

‘Just go’, both Ash and Paul said. There was a pause. ‘GO!’ they shouted.

I leapt off the boat and started to run up the steps of the pier, ‘I think there is a rope around the prop’ I shouted.  I think we all knew that.  I had left them in a fast flowing tidal estuary tied up to a rickety pier end with the next boat who knows where behind and night falling fast.

Trying to put it out of my mind, we started the run.  A mere 25 miles to complete including an ascent of Snowdon in the dark.  I was happy to run, the tension of the sail melted away as we pounded out the miles. The moment we set foot on the land Charles was in charge, my only job was to keep running. I was happy to let him make all the decisions about pace, navigation, strategy – this was how our team was set up and he most definitely is the mountain running expert I just had to keep fed, hydrated and going.

It got dark quite quickly as we made our way to the southern side of Snowdon and we talked about how our shore team would deal with the boat, then mused over when we expected the next team to pass us on the road knowing that both Wight Rose had a pair of incredibly talented runners.

At the bottom of the Ranger path the crew van was parked and Lou and Jon fed us, changed water bottles and informed us that Ash had dived under the boat in the twilight to unwrap a rope from the propeller and Paul was back in his locker fiddling with the autopilot. The next boat in was White Cloud as Wight Rose was still aground and they were some 45 minutes behind and gaining on us.

We started to climb. The night was clear and cool and the sky was awash with stars. Our head torches lit the path ahead and the night was utterly silent except for the noise of our feet crunching up the slope and accompanied breathing.  This was my first ever night ascent of a mountain and the experience seemed very pure.

The head torch beam reduced my world to a 10m patch; but when we paused and turned them off, the acres of starry skies and outlines of mountain tops filled the world back up again.   I only looked forward but kept asking Charles if he could see head torches behind us on the path.  We had expected to be overtaken on the ascent but by the time we got to the top of the Ranger path zigzags there was still no one in sight.

From the zigzags it was a short hop up to the summit and time to put away the food and water I had been slowly consuming on the way up.  The descent was just about running, it would waste valuable time to eat or drink on this phase so we both needed to make sure we were topped up before setting off.

At a decent pace we started the decent, running down the side of the railway track as this provided a more even and regular surface.  As we hit the top of the ranger path two head torches appeared and the runners underneath them shouted encouragement to us.  White Cloud were on our heels.

This led to more musings; we knew that the runners on Wight Rose were exceptional so potentially we would be overtaken by both teams before getting back to the pier. Charles though immensely fit had to stay with me therefore we had already accepted my speed as a limitation to our running performance. The thought of being overtaken did not worry us.

I felt great on that decent, under control and enjoying the speed.  My head torch beam was focussed on the back of Charles’ heels, I never looked up, just followed, allowing him to make judgements about when to cross the track and which rocks to run around.  My feet went where his did.

We got to the intersection of the track with the Llanberis path and peeled off.  Now the descent would be slower, as the ground was uneven, but still there was no sign of head torches behind us.  ‘Maybe they are in stealth mode’ I suggested, but then we couldn’t understand why it would be worth taking that risk just to overtake us.

Running on the path was different, it took more thought, different stride lengths, and the surface did not always have good traction. About 10 minutes into this section my back toe caught the ground as I stepped forward and I was catapulted at full downhill speed, face first into the mountain.

The shock was immense, my knee twisted, elbow and face hurt, I had body slammed a large rock with my chest.  I was stunned, couldn’t get any words out and was squirming around on the floor trying to work out which way was up with my whole body screaming out in pain.

Charles was looking down, concerned (which was a bad sign as he’s not big on sympathy), ‘What’s hurt?’ he said.  ‘Knee’ was all I managed to get out.

I got to sitting and slowly the Adrenaline flooding my system subsided and he helped me to my feet. ‘Can you walk?’ he asked.  ‘Yes’, I said, ‘I’ll be fine.’ I wasn’t 100% sure on that and my first few steps were pathetic limps as I tested my left leg to see how it felt weight bearing.  Quickly I realised I had not broken anything, there was blood streaming down my arm, a small graze on my face but in general it was time to step up or quit.  There was no way I was going to let another team run past us while I was limping.

We started to run again and though my body hurt I felt fine.  Psychologically I was fighting the fear of falling again but rationalised that I’d done it once now and it wasn’t so bad. I survived and I would again.

At the bottom of the mountain we turned left on the road back to Caernafon and met the support van in a layby 10 minutes down.  Lou our medic, set to cleaning up the blood from my arm and was pretty disappointed at quite a minor graze and that no stitches were required. In fact the general message from her was to ‘woman up’, so I popped some painkillers for the aches and pains and we started on our final section of the run, seven miles on the road back to the boat.

The shore crew leap frogged us up the road, it was great to see them they kept us smiling, feeding us jelly babies, macaroons and tiny avocado sandwiches. We kept up the pace walking uphill and running on the flat and down.  Constantly looking over our shoulders and asking Lou and Jon to check the trackers, we could not believe we had still not been overtaken.  Eventually the van peeled off to prepare for our transition back to the boat.

The sky was just lightening as we ran through the backstreets of Caernarfon towards the pier. Unbelievably we were still in first place and had completed the run in just under five and a half hours.  As we ran down the waterfront Ash and Paul had to jostle their way alongside as the pier head was being fiercely guarded by White Cloud, clearly expecting their runners would arrive first.

We ran down the pier to applause and jumped on board, having already relayed via the shore team which sails we wanted for the next sailing leg. Nunatak was ready to go, ties off the main, spinnaker rigged and two cups of team waiting in the sink.  We jumped on board and motored to the starting mark. 14 hours in, one mountain down and no sleep; it was time to sail again.

 

 

Chilling with the dolphins and my inner dragon

1 Day to go

I am sitting on the mighty Nunatak, previous 3 Peaks yacht race winning J120 and our trusty stead for the next five days.  I just have time for a quick update, there is much to do and my mind is wandering badly so don’t expect a quality piece of prose.

I arrived yesterday in a blustery onshore breeze, I was tired but happy to have once again made myself familiar with Nunatak mentally got to grips with the waters of West Wales.  Approaching the lee shore of Barmouth the wind was gusting over 25 knots and a big swell had built in pure terms of seamanship this was not a great entry to be making in these conditions, if anything went wrong the wind and waves would mercilessly push the boat ashore.  I had calculated there would be enough tide to get over the bar when I arrived but rang the harbour master for his opinion and we both agreed due to the swell I should just hang around offshore for a while.  So I chilled in the big waves and two huge dolphins came and chilled with me for a while.  This was the last chilling I would get to do yesterday – probably the last till the end of the race – so I considered myself in good company.

Once into Barmouth the atmosphere changed, a fierce tide and strong winds made boat control and berthing a challenge however in the great spirit of this race, another skipper came across to help me and two boats made mooring up easy.

Once tied up there was little chance for relaxation the boat was swinging round wildly on the mooring and it was too windy on deck to change sails, stress started to push its way up from my toes – too much to do and a desire to be perfectly prepared, it’s a familiar story.

I slept for an hour to recharge my batteries and was then happily distracted by my cool welsh buddy Alice who had hitched a lift out to the boat with much needed chocolate and bananas.  Alice is both a helm for an RNLI rescue boat and is a member of the local mountain rescue team so it was great to hear about her exploits for a bit.  After Alice left I checked my mail and had messages from both Elin and Lowri who I was lucky enough to team up with for the 3 peaks race last year, both of them are extraordinary athletes, adventurers and business women and it is great to know they are cheering me on. On reflection I know some extraordinarily kick arse Welsh women – so for this race I am going to channel my inner dragon.

It’s another day today, I managed to get ashore and have signed on, done the paperwork.  I am now awaiting the arrival of the rest of the team. We will be ready.

The doubt

5 Days to go

I’ve just got back from a hectic few days in Norway, where I was invited to race with Hydra Sailing in the Fæder Race on board their just launched Owen/Clarke Class 40.

Maybe it was crazy to agree to this just one week before our double handed attempt at the 3 Peaks race, but I didn’t want to turn down the opportunity and so flew on Thursday night to Oslo for a race start on Friday.

The Fæder race is incredible. It’s an overnight version of the British Round the Island race, on steroids.  This year around 700 boats started in very light breeze resulting in a good few hours of intense manoeuvrings as boats of all different speeds, types and sizes vied for the limited patches of breeze, often resulting in gentle and very well-mannered bumper cars.  The Norwegians don’t seem to get half as excited as we Brits during close quarters situations.

The race continued through the night mixing, strong tides, tiny channels between islands, thunder, torrential down pours, gusty, shifty winds and boats everywhere.  Navigating this course in a boat designed for offshore and ocean racing was tough.  We changed headsails endlessly and at times were gybing every 3 or 4 minutes.  Hydra, though just launched was fast and well set up, we pushed hard and were the first Class 40 to cross the finish line.

My mind has been on the 3 peaks race almost constantly for the last few months and though I was able to switch off and focus solely on Hydra for the duration of the race, I quickly reverted to thinking about mountains on our spinnaker run back to Central Oslo.

I had been awake all night racing, the need for sleep was creeping up on me and I started to consider how I might feel approaching Whitehaven having sailed for the previous 24 hours and knowing I had a tough 9 hours of exercise ahead.

At that precise moment sailing back to Oslo I knew my body would not be capable of running up a mountain. I was already in a state of mind over matter which I am used to employing in extreme situations when single handing – each physical task is broken down mentally and I have an inner dialogue telling my body what to do as at this level of exhaustion I have limited supply of spontaneous actions.  Was this how I would feel on arrival to ScaFell?  The first seeds of doubt started to creep into my head.

But I had been awake for around 30 hours in one stretch and the day before had flown out to Norway in the evening and only made it to bed at 1 in the morning. I knew I was dehydrated and hadn’t drunk enough during the race – I had not planned to run after the Fæder race, I had used all the energy I had to keep awake and keep driving the boat overnight with the knowledge I could collapse after the finish with a job well done.

Last week I had tired legs, I ran a training half marathon distance at the beginning of the week, did some hill training following that and then worked on hill sprints on my bike.  I spoke to Charles mid week and told him I had low energy and was struggling to feel the joy even on short runs and he told me to stop training.  The dice have been rolled, there is no more to do, I can’t get any fitter now so it is time to rest and just let it happen.

I am not a natural athlete.  I love most sports but have always had to work really hard to achieve any sort of results I am proud of.  I have been training for the running sections of the 3 peaks race for just under a year and it has been tough to maintain any sort of form when the programme has been interspersed with Atlantic deliveries and offshore events where I sometimes don’t run or even walk for weeks at a time.  The recces have given me the confidence to know I can run up and down the mountains but what is in question is whether I will have the energy after sailing as well.

The 3 peaks race is going to be a long game but the ScaFell leg will be make or break. I know how I don’t want to feel when I arrive in Whitehaven and mine and Charles’ job is going to be to manage our nutrition, hydration and sleep to such an extent that we arrive as fresh as possible. That will  mean sleeping regardless of my inner niggles telling me to get on deck and sail that boat fast.  The tidal gate at Whitehaven is significant to overall performance but one might argue if we arrive on the first tide but too exhausted to run up the mountain it might be game over anyway. These are decisions to be made along the way – as a team Charles and I are going to have to constantly monitor our levels of fatigue and make good strategic calls along the way about how we as a team are going to succeed.

And finally a gentle reminder that we will be using the event to raise money for the Fairlight School Big Playground Adventure which is a project giving under privileged children a much needed outdoor space in which to Play and Learn; this will be the only opportunity some of these young children have to be outside.  You can find out more about the project through my blog here; and you can donate to the Big Playground Adventure through our just giving page.  A big Thank You to those who have already donated.

9 Days to Go

I am not normally one to hammer things home but in less than 10 days’ time Charles Hill and I are going to attempt to complete the legendary 3 Peaks Yacht Race double handed (Yes – that means with a team of only the two of us) for the first time ever in the Race’s 40 year history.

This race attempt has been dominating my physical and mental energy since my first determined training run to see if I might get fit enough to take on the mountains in July last year.

Now with the clock finally counting down it is nearly time to face up to the challenge ahead and it is BIG!

Here is a brief outline of what is normally achieved by a crew of 5 and what we must deliver as a pair come the 17th June.

 

Barmouth to Caernarfon – Sailing

62 Miles of sailing – big tidal gates and a shifting sand bar to cross at the entrance to Caernarfon.

Snowdon – Running

24 Miles – on the road to the South side of Snowdon, up the Ranger Path, then down the North side to LLanberis and back again on the road

Caernafon to Whitehaven – Sailing and Rowing

About 100 miles of sailing including a transit of the Menai Straits with some of the UKs strongest tidal currents.  If there is no wind on this tree lined passage then rowing through may be the only option.  Once out the other side we will have the first opportunity for each of us to sleep while the other races the yacht. 

Scafell – Cycling and Running 

The round trip to the summit of Scafell is around 40 miles and this is the longest and most challenging of the land legs. We will cycle to Ennerdale from Whitehaven, then transition to running and must go over the 400m high Black Sail Pass before summiting Scafell and returning to the bikes once again over the Black Sail Pass.

This leg took us just under 9 hours in our recce but in the race we will have run a marathon the day before and only slept for around 5 hours in recovery.

Whitehaven to Fort William – Sailing Rowing, Sailing Rowing, Sailing Rowing

227 miles of tidal gates, wind holes, and challenging navigation.  We expect to row some of this leg, and in 2013 had to row the full final 2 miles up the canal to the finish; but we must use the time to sleep and recover as much as possible after our Scafell ordeal.

Ben Nevis – Just a bit of running

The mighty Ben!  We set off at sea level by the entrance to the Caledonian canal and must make the climb of 1344m and back down again to finish the race. By this point I know we will be physically and mentally exhausted but the finish will be in our sights.

There has been a big work up to this event and over the next couple of days I will be introducing you to our shore team and blogging about some of the training challenges, physical and mental I have faced in the last year.

I don’t often fund raise alongside my racing but for this special attempt Charles and I have decided to support the Fairlight School Big Playground Adventure which hopes to provide a safe outdoor space for underprivileged young children to grow their own dreams.  If you are inspired please visit our Just Giving page or if you wish to speak about making a larger donation then contact me directly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beating

Beating:  Sailing to windward.

‘We were on the beat’, ‘ I was beating to Poole’ ‘it’s a beat’ – one of those nautical terms that just makes no sense if overheard in a conversation by a non-sailor.  But as Phorty drops of the crest of another wave with a bone shattering slam ‘beating’ is exactly the word to conjure up our trip back across the Atlantic from Bermuda.

We are currently 300 miles off the west coast of Ireland having been pushed all the way north by persistent and strong Easterly winds making entry through the Western approaches to the English Channel anything but easy going.  Since departing Bermuda some 13 days ago we have been battling our way into headwinds for pretty much the entire time.

Down below we move around like foul weather clad orangutans, the constant heeling and bucking of the boat on the waves makes standing up without holding on an impossibility so we hang off ropes secured to the cabin top, walking our way forward or aft using arms not legs to keep us steady.  One handed tea making has become a refined skill amongst our delivery crew of three, as well as dressing, washing and any other daily tasks you could imagine, which become a major mission when you can’t stand up.  The rigid structure of Phorty’s hull transfers energy directly to the interior so badly stacked sail bags and sleeping people slowly bounce out of there allocated spaces and end up in a heap on the leeward side of the boat.  A wave caught on the outside of the hull can be felt like a kidney punch to the person sleeping on the inside. But sleep still comes if you are tired enough.

On deck the waves pour constantly down the deck though sitting inside the cuddy we are kept safe from the elements.  The autopilot does not care for our comfort and will drive Phorty straight off the face of waves mercilessly following instructions to the letter.  A human hand on the helm produces a more gentle ride and I have spent hours now mesmerised by the form of the waves, the oncoming gusts and keeping a steady and smooth course. Occasionally we will scuttle up to the mast and put a reef in as the heel on the boat becomes too much, only to drop it out a few hours later always searching for a better speed.

We were given some respite from this sheeted in, heeled over state by the passage of a little low pressure system mid Altantic, which snuck up behind to blow us on our way.  This time sails were eased to half way, we reached across messy seas with gusts up to 40 knots and our mainsail reefed down to the max.  In these conditions the autopilots sadistic approach was too much to bear so we took it in turns to hand steer picking our way through the onslaught of waves approaching from different directions.  Being on the helm then, sitting out on the very side of the boat, was like being jetted with a fire hose for hours and hours on end.  The half-height combing behind the helming position stopped us from being washed off the deck but at the end of a watch my torso felt like it had been beaten and my right eye was red from the constant barrage of salt water that had been directed at it.

My new drysuit is without a doubt my current favourite thing.  When I am wearing it I feel invincible.  Yes I will go onto the foredeck and pull that sail down, or tidy those ropes – you can’t get me waves! No more soggy trouser bottoms from crawling on a wave drenched deck.

It has been a tough delivery that is for sure but Phorty has coped with the conditions well and as always I have learned a huge amount.  I am sure it sounds horrendous to some (ok maybe to most) but to sail this boat is a real privilege for me. In order to achieve performance sacrifices must be made, the boat is built to race, to be strong, to be light and were comfort is important you will find it (such as in the helming position) but nowhere else.  For me this is no problem, I will never complain about conditions on board because this boat is made to race and if I want to experience what it can do then I must embrace all that it is.

 

So beating does not seem such a jibberish word all in all. We have been given a beating all the way across the Altantic.  My rough and calloused hands, the ribs starting to show through my skin and weary back an shoulders all profess to that; but we are not beaten.  We have snuck around the top of these easterly winds and tonight will drop down from the north with a following wind to make Lands End by Tuesday.

 

beating beating

Foul winds, Foul Fuel

The route back from the Caribbean is seldom simple; it is a question of planning a strategy to dodge around weather systems, avoiding the headwinds, skirting around the windless holes then waiting for the perfect low pressure system to sweep you east without beating you up on the way. We left Antigua with a grand plan in mind; to head north out of the easterlies and then motor directly through the centre of a high pressure system above us. Once this was cleared we would hook into a low and ride our way home. Simple but effective. Like all great plans, it didn’t turn out that way and somewhere on day 4 of our trip things took an unusual turn and the last week has been poles apart from what I had hoped. Objectives for yacht deliveries are completely different to racing. My main aims for this passage are naturally to keep my crew safe, then to minimise wear, tear and damage to the boat and sails then finally to get back to the UK as quickly as I can. When I look at the weather I am not only looking for a quick route but also an easy one, I will avoid excessive wind and waves and aim to motor through areas of calm as much as fuel supplies will allow. For this trip Phorty is using old sails which is also limiting our performance – I have only a small jib and small spinnaker available to use. The good new ones are kept for racing best. At times deliveries can be painfully slow, especially if you know just how much potential the boat has to go faster; I find it quite hard and have to mentally sit on my hands to stop them from searching out big spinnakers or shaking out reefs when actually we are going fast enough already. So.. back to day 4 of our delivery and we are making our way north, under motor with a blistering hot sun baking down on the deck. And then all of a sudden we are not. With a faltering put putting, the engine grinds to a halt and we are left wallowing – a heavily laden boat with small delivery sails in a big sloppy and windless ocean. Somewhere along the lines we must have picked up some dirty fuel and the engine could no longer be relied upon to either charge our batteries or fire up in an emergency situation such as man overboard. There was only one solution available, which was to sail to Bermuda some 400 miles to the North West then drain our tank, change the fuel filters and start the trip over again. The biggest hurdle being actually getting to Bermuda from the wind hole we were firmly stuck in. It took three days of trying, of hoping every time a ripple appeared on the horizon that this would be the breeze filling in then the disappointment as the boat slapped and slammed and the sails hung loose when the wind fizzled out to nothing again. To make matters worse we were due to make our Bermuda landfall just after sunset on a Saturday night so the hope of getting professional help on the island on a Sunday was limited and we would need to spend the night stooging around outside the island in the dark, as to sail between the reefs with no engine at night would not have been a smart idea. In an effort to try and organise some help for a quick turn around, back in the UK Ash started to ring around various contacts to find out where was the best place to go in Bermuda to sort our problems out and if there was anyone who might be able to help out on a Sunday. After a great flurry of contact – many thanks to everyone who offered advice – we came back with the answer that Bermuda is basically closed on a Sunday. No one could even think about whether they could help us until Monday morning. As the sun rose on Sunday we came to the realisation we were on our own, rolled up our sleeves and decided to nail this problem. With the help and guidance of the Duty Officer at the wonderful Bermuda Harbour Radio we sailed in through Town Cut to St Georges harbour then picked up a tow from a passing fisherman and finally we made it to the shore. The mission would now begin and I had a problem solving ace crew for the job. I pulled apart the stern locker to find an oil extraction pump and some old garden hose which was then duly cobbled together to drain the tank. Diane led a mission to find a disposal place for the old fuel and a garage to get some new stuff. After two hours of pumping, rinsing, cleaning and walking backwards and forwards with jerry cans the engine started again and we left it purring away for a couple of hours, watching from a quayside restaurant while inhaling a burger and chips that was long overdue. And so that evening we once more set off to sail back to England. The forecast is slightly different and we are one crew down as Poppy flew home from Bermuda, but three days into the next leg of our trip and I am pleased to report there is nothing to report. The worlds of racing and deliveries require different temperaments – to mix them up would bring failure on both counts. However there is one stand out attribute that is required across the board when ocean sailing and that is to take adversity on the chin. Things go wrong, sometimes fault can be attributed, and sometimes it just happens. For every problem that gets thrown into your path a solution must be found, circumstances must be endured or embraced, there is seldom time for self-pity or lamentation and rarely anyone else to play the fairy godmother and make your problems go away. If you can do all this and still find the time to enjoy a stint on the helm or marvel at a beautiful sunset then life cannot be bad at all.

And Breathe…..

I am a bit of a yes woman.
I like to say yes to most things, whether they are invitations to dinner or crazy endurance challenges. Saying yes feeds my appetite for experience and also guards against that nagging feeling that somewhere along the line I might miss out. Saying yes pushes me along, it encourages me to use my time as productively as I can, to work, to learn, to experience and to spend time with the people I love. However, packing so much in just before heading off on a Trans-Atlantic crossing can result in one crazy Pip, ricocheting between countries and activities, trying desperately hard to keep all of those balls from crashing down around me. In the last couple of weeks I have managed to pack in a lifejacket test for Yachting World magazine, a snowboarding trip, a pit stop in Sweden to review the new Hallberg-Rassy 44 and an all-day running and biking event – all the while planning provisions, spares and repairs for the delivery of Phorty back across the Atlantic. I arrived in Antigua with delivery crew on the 28th and since then we have worked and prepared in a suffocating humidity to make sure we and the boat would be ready for whatever the ocean throws at us in the next couple of weeks. My crew settled in quickly and it has been wonderful to team up with fellow mini sailor Diane Reid, who I have not really spent any time with since our 2013 race; as well as Charles who is my co-skipper for the upcoming double handed attempt at the 3 Peaks Yacht Race and his daughter Poppy. When we finally cast off the lines and sailed out of Falmouth harbour to start our 3500 mile journey back to the UK the cool breeze was a welcome to us all. Immediately the frenzied activity of the past few weeks has been caught up on a warm Caribbean wind, my shoulders are relaxing and my gaze is on the wonderful empty ocean that lies ahead. I love sailing across oceans, this will be my 11th trans-Atlantic and I felt just as excited and nervous when leaving the dock as I did on the first. Not only will I have time ahead to indulge in sailing this wonderful boat (every day is a school day on board) but also to reset the pace of life, to focus on just one thing and start to breathe again.

Proud to Support the Big Playground Adventure

I have had a strong connection with the outdoors my whole life.  Being outside, feeling the raw elements of the British weather on my skin, has always had a positive impact on me both physically and mentally.  I have my best thoughts when I am out in the open air and just going outside for a walk, run or sail can dramatically change my mood and my energy.

I was lucky to have been brought up in a family where being outdoors was part of what we did.  After school my Mum gave us two choices, be inside and do your homework or go outside and run around.  We spent family holidays messing around on the water or walking in the hills so perhaps it is not surprising I turned out this way.  I first hand understand how vital outdoor activities are to the physical and mental well-being of any person, especially when they are young.

 

With my sister Rachael enjoying the outdoors

When I think of childhood it is a lot about running round outside, playing games and getting dirty but for many children in the UK now this could not be further from the truth.  In a growing number of areas around the country children are living in overcrowded accommodation with no access to gardens or green space where they can safely play.  Home life is limited to being indoors and so their only chance of safe outdoor play time is at school where often facilities and space are limited.

I know all this because I have a sister, Rachael, who is a dedicated and passionate teacher at a primary school whose pupils largely come from homes like this and Fairlight Primary and Nursery School want to change the lives of their pupils for the better.

The Big Playground Adventure Appeal is seeking to raise £67,000 to build an amazing outdoor learning area, complete with adventure trail equipment, outdoor classroom facilities and sheltered areas where children can play and learn throughout the school day.  The schools vision is that ‘every individual child achieves’ and the new outdoor area will support that vision by:

  • improving outdoor provision for disadvantaged children
  • improving the physical fitness and mental well being of all children in their school
  • improving learning outcomes in particular for disadvantaged children through outdoor learning opportunities

As Charles Hill my co-skipper in the 3 Peaks Yacht Race and I both greatly understand the link between achievement and outdoor activities we both felt a great affinity towards the Fairlight project and have decided to use our unique race attempt to fund raise for this project.

If you are inspired by our own efforts in chasing down a so-far never attempted endurance challenge then please help the staff and parents of Fairlight School give their pupils a chance to feel just some of what so many of us take for granted – and donate to the appeal through our Just Giving page.

If just putting money into a generic pot is not your thing then Fairlight could also offer the opportunity to buy selected equipment directly or even fund selected areas and would be happy to recognise any donations.  If this sounds more your bag then please get in touch with me or the school directly.

Before I sign off let’s just put one thing straight – in case of any misconceptions.  Yes, Fairlight School is in Brighton and this is not necessarily an area we may associate with deprivation.  But surely we are all aware that every city has many faces, many different districts with a vast disparity of wealth across a relatively small area, if you still need more convincing you can find out more information about the project here.

If like me you want to help give the children of Fairlight a chance to benefit from time spent in a safe outdoor environment then please donate to the appeal.

The BIG Outdoor Learning Adventure

 

Fairlight Primary and Nursery is an inner city school with 420 pupils ranging from 3 to 11 years. We are looking for funding to develop our outdoor environment to help us realise our school vision EVERY INDIVIDUAL CHILD ACHIEVES.

Our Aim

  • to develop an inspiring outdoor learning environment which will support every individual child and enable them to achieve their full potential in all areas of learning

It’s goals:

  • to improve outdoor provision for disadvantaged children
  • to improve the physical fitness and mental well being of all children in our school
  • to improve learning outcomes in particular for disadvantaged children through outdoor learning opportunities

Why should you help us?

Fairlight is a school which has an extremely diverse population. This is a fact which we celebrate but also comes with many challenges. A significant proportion of children who attend our school come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they do not have the money or resources to attend out of school clubs and activities, they  are often living in very poor and overcrowded accommodation, with no or little outdoor space and indoor living areas that have been changed into bedrooms. Living in these environments can lead to both physical and mental health issues, however stimulating outdoor provision is well documented to have therapeutic benefits to children, there have been numerous studies into the benefits of outdoor learning and it’s potential to improve all aspects of children’s well-being: physical, emotional, social, and cognitive. In our area of the city there are a limited number of safe outdoor spaces that groups serving children affected by economic issues would be able to afford, therefore development of our playground would enable us to open up these opportunities further and to improve its use not only for our pupils but also the wider community. 23% of the children in Fairlight have English as an additional language and 26 different languages are spoken at the school at the current time. This is 80% more than other schools in Brighton and 78% more than schools nationally (Arbor 2016). Many of these children have come to us directly from abroad either due to immigration because of poor circumstances in their home country or as refugees. These children often have little or no English language however the language of play is universal. So by ensuring our playground is a safe, stimulating and welcoming environment we will not only be supporting their physical and mental wellbeing, but also their language development too.

What our children say

Recently our Governors completed a large project to readdress our school vision and what it actually means to different to our stakeholders. The children overwhelmingly spoke about the outdoor environment, how important it was to them and how much they wanted to be able to learn more through being outside. We have a strong School Council who have already done a huge amount of work with our pupils, seeking their opinions on the environment and how it can be improved. They have visited other schools to look at possibilities and also discussed ways that they can raise funds to support the project.

What we need

We are looking for funding towards developing different areas of our playground over the next 18 months:

£20 000 will enable us to put in new multi-use sports goals and adventure trail equipment which will help improve the physical fitness of our pupils and enable them to take part in different sporting activities both during and outside of school times.

£25 000 will build an new mezzanine floor, creating space for another class to be able to work in the outdoor environment, in particular looking at science projects and large scale design and technology.

£17 000 will build a new enclosed sheltered area which can be used as a separate outdoor learning area both during the school day and then as an area for an additional club or group outside of school hours

£5000 will help us to develop our outdoor area for our youngest children (3 to 5 years) providing much needed play shelters which can be used in many ways to support their learning and development.