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.