Sunday 17 May 2009

Scottish Islands Peaks Race

15th - 16th May 2009
Oban stage, 3.9 miles Mull stage, 23.3 miles Jura stage, 16 miles Jura stage, 16 miles Our boat Blue Chip - the only trimaran in the race

At the time, throwing in the towel at Sanda was the only decision to make. We'd been getting battered by heavy seas for 6 hours since leaving Jura, and despite rounding the Mull of Kintyre, once we turned northwards towards Arran we were getting slammed broadside making sailing Blue Chip, a 28ft trimaran, virtually impossible. The boat simply wasn't designed for these conditions. And neither were the runners onboard.

"Wind against tide" is something you hear sailors talking about, but has to be experienced to be believed, and even then you want to forget the experience as soon as possible. The seas around the Mull of Kintyre were unbelievable. We were ploughing into huge standing waves that were breaking right over the boat. On deck, Steven and Graham were soaked and exhausted fighting to control the boat. Down below, David and I were wretching and wrenching our stomach muscles bringing up bile. Steven's son Scott looked like he was sleeping through the whole thing.

As we approached Sanda and Steven suggested binning the race and aiming for Campbeltown harbour, nobody objected. So the engine went on, and the race was over.

In hindsight it was a bit of a pity not to carry on and attempt to win the race, since we were currently lying in 1st place in the senior event. But I think that even if we had arrived at Arran an hour ahead of Obedient, their runners - Donald Naylor and Ray Ward - would still have overtaken us, since David and I were feeling so wrecked.

However, there were a few positive highlights from the weekend... It was a beautiful afternoon on Thursday for the train ride from Glasgow up to Oban, and almost warm enough to sit outside for an evening meal.

Friday the weather was fine enough, albeit with a cold easterly wind. The 4-mile prologue at Oban was fun, with David Riach and I finishing 7th behind Symonds brothers Joe and Andy, HBT's Donald Naylor and Ray Ward, a junior team, Carnethy's Adrian Davis and Adam Ward, Highlanders Alec Keith and Henry Blake, and Lochaber's Paul Raistrick and Pete Ward. We arrived on the slipway level with a pair from Cardiff's MDC.

The sail across to Oban was pretty fast with an easterly wind blowing. We arrived at Salen on Mull in 2nd place, around 4 minutes behind Obedient whose runners Donald and Ray were just about to leave the kit check. We didn't see Donald and Ray again until high on Ben More when we caught glimpses of them about 10 minutes in front. Just after checkpoint 3 on Mull in the gully below Ben More summit, the Symonds brothers came belting through and gave us a major wake up call. We sped up, inspired by their phenomenal pace across the rough ground to the second col on Ben More. The steep grass descent was made easier by a blasting easterly holding you up on the descent.

With an hour to go, I took a Smart1 energizer gel that tasted absolutely disgusting, but seemed to do the trick since we ran 10k from the shoe-change checkpoint to Salen pier in 46 minutes, the same time as we ran out.

We completed the Mull stage in 4:07, but promptly broke an oar on the dinghy. I jumped into the sea to try to recover the paddle and went right underwater. In the end we wasted several minutes, and only got out to Blue Chip by paddling with a single paddle Canadian canoe style.

The sail down to Jura was much faster than my previous 5 island peaks races and we arrived at Craighouse around 3am, meaning we did the first half of the Jura stage in the dark. Once again we were 4 minutes behind Obedient, their runners Donald and Ray just leaving the village hall as we arrived.

The trek across the moor in pitch darkness and mist to the first Pap was a bit of a navigational headache, but we made it eventually. Once off the first Pap and up Beinn an Oir we realised we were in the lead, since their were no other tags on the orienteering kites. Our descent off the 3rd Pap was painfully slow, but we eventually hit the lochan outflow and wallowed down the mushy deer tracks to Three Arch Bridge for the 3.3 mile jog along the road to the boat.

Unlike last year, there was no sense of euphoria as we left Jura in pole position. We all knew the writing was on the wall with a Storm Force 9 forecast, and Blue Chip was simply not designed to sail in those conditions. But well done to all those teams who did manage to complete the course. We certainly know that the Symonds brothers did not retain their King of the Bens title since we saw Andy and Joe in Lochgilphead catching the same bus route back to Glasgow!
Read Andy Symonds' blog post.


Billy said...


Too bad you weren’t able to retain your title but obviously the right decision to withdraw in the circumstances. I ran in the ’91 Boat Race and we had a similar fate (though we were far from leading the race) rounding the Mull of Kintyre and had to pack in the race – it really is a mini Cape Horn.

I think we were the smallest boat that year, a 21 footer, and we had a half baked plan to haul the boat over land at Tarbert as the Vikings did (I think the name Tarbert is Norse for a strip of land between two watercourses where a boat can be taken across – there are a few on the West Coast), thus avoiding sailing round the Mull (I don’t think anything in the rules actually said you HAD to sail round the Mull) but we never sorted out a trailer and it would have probably needed more than the team of 5 to do the deed.



Ray said...

We were team 41 on boat Turus skippered by Graham Green so it was always going to be a bit of a story. Marcus and myself (Ray) were in the lead position for about 20 yards before dropping back to give the others a chance. We bumbled about abit getting on the boat, but gained a few places on the way to Mull. A rapid 9 knot departure in a mini dingie towed behind Turus was pretty wild but gained us a few places. The long flat run in before the boggy climb gave me some cramp once we hit the odd bog on the ascent, though this seemed to go away. A few other teams overtook us at this stage. We made a Navagational error on top of windy Ben More. It was difficult to hold onto the map never mind take a compass bearing due to the wind. Well on the way back down the road it was pleasing to overtake some of the teams that had overtaken us on the ascent which was promising for the additional grinds. Unfortunately the boats electrics failed on the way to Jura and a decision was made to jack.

It was sad in some ways to see some of the slower boats the next morning sailing their way down to Jura. Great respect goes to an old vintage boat with archaic looking sails. I bet it coped with whatever the weather had to throw at it.