A report from Mike Hilton.
I headed down to Barmouth on the Thursday evening before the start of the race. Jon our skipper had asked me to do the race last autumn. We had numerous training weekends since January; our runners had trained hard for over six months. Just a few last minute preparations and we were ready for a real extreme challenge.
Four pm Saturday the 25th June 2011, race start. We headed out slightly late due to waiting for other boats to get off the trot moorings. Going across Barmouth bar was quite rough with a south-westerly force 6 gusting 7, blowing head on. We lost our anometer from the top of the mast; Rob saw something fall into Davie Jones locker, out the corner of his eye. We would rely on the sail tell tails.
We missed the ten minute gun, so started slightly late, but were not last across the line. Dave showed his contempt for our life saving equipment in this strong weather by throwing up over our liferaft. Ben sitting out the side as we were beating to Bardsey Sound took a huge wave, his automatic lifejacket duly inflated. I will always remember the look of what’s just happened on his face. We were overtaken by a couple of the faster boats but managed to overtake a few boats ourselves. After Bardsey we heard on the radio that one boat had pulled into Porth Dinlleyn a problem with the mast.. We arrived at the Caernarfon bar a bit early, so decided to wait forty minutes before crossing. Then the dreaded sound on the VHF ‘Mayday, Mayday, Mayday’, one of the competitors had damaged its rudder and had drifted onto a sand bank. The lifeboat from Porth Dinlleyn was launched. We sailed past the stricken vessel with the lifeboat minutes away. That was not to be the only vessel to get stuck that night on the bar.
We dropped Ben and Dave off for their run up Snowdon, we picked up a visitors mooring and had a couple of hours sleep. The boys did really well on their run, so after picking them up we headed up the Straits for the Swellies. We got the oars out and used them mainly for steerage as we slowly went beneath the two bridges that join Anglesey to Wales. We had the tide with us for the run up the Straits, once through Puffin sound we hoisted the cruising chute and hit 11.3 knots. It was not to last very longed, we soon becalmed along with the rest of the fleet. At one point we were heading the wrong way i.e. Anglesey at least the tide was taking us to Whitehaven. The wind filled out later and we raced to Whitehaven. Once through the locks we dropped Jon and Rob off for their ten hour marathon, cycling and running up Scar Fell. Ben, Dave and me sorted out the boat, had showers, went ashore for lunch and took delivery of more food from our superb shore crew.
Leaving Whitehaven behind we Headed for Mull of Galloway via Point of Ayr on the northern tip of the Isle of Man. We were again becalmed after Mull of Galloway but did spot a submarine out of Faslane. The wind picked up and so did the cruising chute. As we passed the Mull of Kintyre, Rob played Paul McCartney’s famous song of the same name. Personally I prefer the ‘Dirges’ punk rock version, it is over so much quicker. He also treated us to William Shatner’s version the Pulp classic ‘Common People’, which became our anthem. Heading up Loch Linnie, a RAF Typhoon buzzed us, so quiet on the approach, but when it banked around our mast, at no more than fifty metres, the sound was truly awesome. The Corran Narrows was a test of nerves with Jon praying to the God of Wind to help us through against a falling tide. The wind died again shortly afterwards and yet again we broke out the oars. It was hard work but we managed one knot through the water and slightly less over the ground. We managed to sail the last mile ever so slowly; Ben and Dave set off to do Ben Nevis just before one am Thursday morning. The rest of us had a couple of hours sleep before greeting our runners back. They had passed two other teams on the mountain, so we had achieved a very respectful ninetieth out of thirty-two.
After less than two hours sleep we had to move into the Caledonian Canal, once tied up we had to move again shortly afterwards, at least we had finished. That night we went to the end of race party, even though some competitors were still to finish. Rob could no longer stand staying on board and stayed in a posh hotel with his girlfriend. Dave left us the following morning to get the train back home.
Jon, Ben and me headed back to Conwy for nine am Friday, we stopped in Ardglass, Northern Ireland to re-fuel and get some much needed sleep. We finally made Conwy at eleven am Sunday morning; I was that tired I managed to fall asleep for a moment standing up at the helm just off Anglesey. Jon dropped me off at home Sunday afternoon. It took me Sunday and all of Monday to recover..
The thing I’ve learnt, join ‘Rogan Josh’ on Ding Dong next time, they get deliveries from Jura, my favourite whiskey. What a truly amazing adventure, could not find a better crew to do it with.
Now looking to the next big sailing adventure, any ideas?