Ajax, Digital Built Consultants and Wild Spirit at the start line. Photo: Rob Howard/Three Peaks Yacht Race

Ajax, Digital Built Consultants and Wild Spirit at the start line. Photo: Rob Howard/Three Peaks Yacht Race

A race that tests both sailing and mountain running ability had a tempestuous end as Storm Hector curtailed the final ascent of Ben Nevis.

Competitors in the annual Three Peaks Yacht Race faced being becalmed in the early stages only to see runners held back for safety reasons in high winds on the final day of the event.

The race involves sailing from Barmouth in north Wales to Fort William in Scotland, with athletes from the teams scaling Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis.

The Wild Spirit team took the overall trophy, with ultrarunners Stuart Walker and Jon Morgan taking the ‘king of the mountains’ trophy.

During the first three days of the race, sailors had to row their yachts due to lack of wind, yet by the finishing stages the planned run up and down Britain’s highest peak had to be postponed and then shortened due to dangerously high winds and summit snow.

During the ascent of Snowdon, runners suffered sunburn and dehydration. Organisers said: “For the first time in the history of the race none of the race yachts chose the direct route through the Menai Strait, preferring to go around Anglesey and look for some wind in the Irish Sea.”

After the second stage of the race, which involves 38 miles of cycling and the ascent of Scafell Pike, it the Irish boat Digital Built Consultants was in the lead, just ahead of Wild Spirit, though on handicap system, the 33foot Baloo was ahead.

Race organisers said: “The third stage from Whitehaven to Fort William is the longest sail of the race, rounding the Mulls of Galloway and Kintyre and passing through the tidal gates and variable winds of the Inner Hebrides.

“After days of calm those winds were about to gust to nearly 40 knots as Storm Hector shattered the stable weather pattern apart, and conditions turned from no wind at all to storms.

“Wild Spirit and Digital Built Consultants broke away, racing to get into Fort William before the worst weather hit, and the storm conditions lost Baloo their chance of an overall win on handicap. They did however win the Tilman Cup for all round performance, by putting four of the team of five on to a summit.

“The two lead boats raced neck and neck, day and night to get an advantage for their runners on the final peak, Ben Nevis. Passing the Corran Narrows into the steep-sided northern Loch Linnhe on the final approach to the finish they were still only a couple of metres apart after four days of racing, with Digital Built Consultants flying their spinnaker in 30 knot winds.

Kings of the mountain Stuart Walker, left, and Jon Morgan on Ben Nevis. Photo: Rob Howard/Three Peaks Yacht Race

Kings of the mountain Stuart Walker, left, and Jon Morgan on Ben Nevis. Photo: Rob Howard/Three Peaks Yacht Race

“Wild Spirit crossed the line first by a few minutes with their runners primed to leap ashore and run up to the snow-covered summit of Ben Nevis, only to be told the race had to be put on hold for safety reasons until the storm eased.”

The summit was being battered by 60mph winds and in fresh snowfall with sub-zero temperatures. In the 40-year race history it was only the second time Ben Nevis has been closed to runners.

The deflated runners had to wait until the next day to complete a shortened run part way up Ben Nevis to complete the race and Wild Spirit, skippered by Paul Jackson, scooped most of the trophies as first over the line and winners on handicap in a corrected race time of four days 2hrs 13 mins, just 21 minutes ahead of Digital Built Consultants.

The runners from Wild Spirit, Stuart Walker and Jon Morgan, also won all three mountain runs and took the king of the mountains title with a combined run time of 13hrs 27mins.

Race organisers trialled a new ‘challenge’ class which allowed non-competitive entrants some engine use to complete the race route. The first ever challenge finishers were company team Smithers Purslow who were raising money for several charities.

They walked to all of the summits and used their engine when needed.

Skipper Steve Fraser said: “We know we can’t ever compete with the race teams, but to be able to come and complete the course as a challenge was fantastic for us.

“It took some determined team work and we’re delighted to be first ever challenge finishers.”

The challenge class will be incorporated into the event from now on and will be open to schools, universities, companies and clubs.

Next year’s race will start on June 15th from Barmouth. More details are on the Three Peaks Yacht Race site.

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