Three Peaks Yacht Race - Starts with a bang

Slipstream Web Diary
Bill Cuthbert
Mon 27 Jun 2011 04:23
We awoke to a find Barmouth cloaked in mist and a howling F7 coming in from the harbour mouth - where we were the first boat in the trot and facing the full blast of the gale. Looking out at the surf breaking out on the harbour bar, we felt uncertain that a start was possible in these conditions.
The two youth runners had an appointment with the race scrutineers on shore at 9.00am so there was no relaxed breakfast. Chris and George went off with their running gear on the harbour taxi (really nice guys and SO cheerful in the rain) and were inspected and passed as fit to do the job. Thankfully we did not send any of the fifty year olds.
There were several briefings where it was comfirmed that the race would start. HM Coastguard representatives cheerfully admitted that they expected a bit of business that day.
After bacon sarnies ashore and a final stock up with ginger nuts, the crew repaired to the boat to rest up for a few hours before the start. At around 3.00 p.m. we were led out of the harbour by the Barmouth Lifeboat - with the cheerful ferry man astride the helm as Coxswain.  I hope we looked  We were waved at by our own supporters - Binny & Mark Jones and their boys had journeyed from their home near Oswestry to wave us off. The rest of the flotilla was serenaded by a Welsh version of a Carribbean band who were sounding quite jolly given the wind and rain!
The boat led us through the huge breakers and surf on the bar - many boats were already having some difficulty in the swells. We left bang on schedule and had a reasonable start - we were 11th across. Some boats were still struggling to leave the harbour. After 1/2 and hour were were ripping along under double reefed main at about 8 knts in 7th place and looking good. Then, as usual, a breakage. Our main sailtrack system separated from the main track!!! Paul quietly pointed this out to the skipper, at the time busily helming away from a Sigma 38. He decided to tack away from the main racing column to inspect damage. The 4m waves and F7 making this a challening task. The gear was broken but not fatal. What did deal a mortal blow to our racing chances, however, was the skipper remaining on the breakaway tack. He was convinced that it was madness for the fleet to cross the imfamous Sarn Badrig reef to the north of Barmouth in this swell. That was the last they we saw of them for a while. This reef - known as St Patrick's Causeway to us Angles - was where the holy man walked to Ireland. Apparently he hopped for one section and left a gap for 32 boats to squeeze through. Hmmm.
There followed another 5 hours of rough seas and deck decoration before we went through Bardsey Sound in thick fog and 35 knot winds and received the relative protection of the Lleyn Pensinsula. Thew skipper ordered a slow down which became a full stop as we hove-to so as to arrive at the Caernarfon Bar at around 0400 on Sunday morning. Through the night we were joined by about 5 other boats - phew. We also heard a few Pan-Pans and Maydays on the VHF. The skipper spoke to some other crews on the radio and it was confirmed that many other crews had suffered sickness - particularly pro runner types. That made some on board fell a bit better.
We crossed the Caerenarfon Bar at around 0400 with breakers all around and then tracked the bouyage system into the relative shelter of the Menai Straits. We were in good company and boats were droppoing off runners as we arrived. To our astonishment, some boats were also PICKING UP runners who ahd already completed the Snowdon leg and setting off down the MenaI Straits to the Sweelies and beyond.
George and Chris had breakfasted well on a large bowl of porridge and, so laden, they jumped onto the Fictoria Dock and ran off East, directed by our specialist support.They ran hard for the first 13 miles, strode out forcefully on the mountain section but felt a bit busted on the 9 mile return leg. Their time, just under 7 hours for a mountain marathon was considered very creditable by the remainder of the crew who had remained on Slipstream.
Whilst the runners were busy, Nick, Bill and Paul slept fitfully back on the boat then washed her down, dried the mountains of wet gear on the warm breeze and sunshine and set about frig-rigging the broken mainsail track - not one of the manufacturers best.
After a brief pause for lunch and a snooze before the skipper judged the moment propitioues from a tidal flow perspective, we set off eastwards through the Menai Straits leaving only the Belgian entry at the anchorage - three more boats had left a bit earlier to go the "wrong way round" Anglesey. The Menai were a fantastic sight in the warm sunshine. The dreaded "Swellies" were clearly a major hazard to health and hull but we squeezed through with careful pilotage and good crew work on the gybes. It was a great feeling to reach the Menai Straits Bridge and see the open sea beyond.
The remainder of the day included a glorious run past Puffin Island at the mouth of the Menai and then a breief spinnaker run towads trhe end of the day - with Nick Scott feeling very pleased to be on deck, felling good and helming at 8.5 knots.
After a supper of recycled lunch, the wind died and stayed pretty dead all night. As I type now we are 17 miles north of Puffin Island (good) but have drifted 10 miles with the tide towards Ireland (bad) and remain 57 miles from Whitehaven (really annoying), the welcome embrace of Julie and Sarah and the second leg cycle/runs. It is also worth noting that even here, in the middle of the Irish Sea there are midges to annoy a lonely sole watchman/blogsmith. We hope it is the same for all other crews!!!
The 0500 forecast had a strong wind warning. Seems improbable right now.