Three Peaks Race: Merseybeat rowing stroke peaks at right time: Rob Howard reports how Gareth Owen's oarsmen beat becalmed seas to win the Three Peaks Race yesterday

AT 7.31am yesterday the 27ft trimaran, Burtonwood Merseybeat, glided across the calm waters of Loch Linnhe to moor at Fort William beneath the cloud-shrouded ramparts of Ben Nevis. Two runners jumped ashore to race 17 miles to the 4,406ft summit and back again.

Three hours and 34 minutes later they rejoined their three crew-mates, all of them blistered and aching after days at sea but happy to have won the 17th Karrimor Three Peaks Race - a combination of mountain running and offshore sailing which inspires both madcap adventure and sporting excellence.

With 12 other yachts of varying sizes and specifications, they had set off from Barmouth on the Welsh coast last Saturday to sail 389 miles, stopping only at Caernarfon and Ravenglass in Cumbria to allow the runners to scale Snowdon and Scafell Pike, the highest points in Wales and England. What they did not expect when they set off was to have to row much of the way . . .

Burtonwood Merseybeat's skipper, Gareth Owen, winning for the third time in 11 attempts, has more experience of the race than anyone else. 'That was the hardest race of all,' he said. 'The weather was horrible, so calm that we rowed about half the way, and the oars are all smashed up. We ran out of food and water rounding the Mull of Kintyre.'

The five crew members survived for 36 hours on a few cartons of orange juice but, asked if they thought of stopping for supplies, the navigator, Steve Willis, said: 'No, we just had a laugh about it and carried on.'

Had he been there to hear them, Major HW Tilman, who was the inspiration behind the race, would have approved of those sentiments. Tilman was one of the great pioneers of Himalayan exploration. He settled on the Mawddach estuary, near Barmouth, where he learned to sail; he then bought a Bristol pilot cutter, naming it Mischief, and spent his later years on long voyages to the Southern Ocean, where he climbed inaccessible Antarctic peaks.

Tilman's love of adventure on both mountain and sea inspired a local doctor, Rob Howarth, to start the race, and Tilman gave the first prizes in 1977. Shortly afterwards, at the age of 80, he sailed for the Antarctic again and never returned.

Famed for planning his expeditions on 'the back of an envelope', his comment on race rules was: 'Let them get on with it.' They have been doing so ever since. Rowing is common practice, and boats have been pulled by the crew walking along the shore, a tactic used by Owen in his first race in 1981.

As Howarth recalled, standards of competition were different then. 'In the first race, my yacht put walkers ashore who took two days to get to Scafell Pike and back, and the winning yachts took nearly a week. Now the record for the whole race is just two days and nine hours, and all three mountains have been run in a time of 10 hours 32 minutes. Even with no wind, we won this year in under four days.'

In the past, boats have been dismasted, grounded on sand bars and wrecked, but the only drama this week was Burtonwood Merseybeat hitting a rock in the Menai Straits. It woke up the two runners, Les Mercer and Paul Cadwallader, but no damage was done.

This year, the runners did not risk being tipped from dinghies into stormy seas, though Cadwallader and Mercer did have to run up and down Scafell Pike in the dark. Even then, the 32 miles took them only 6hr 25min. They suffered more from blisters on their hands than on their feet, but at least their time at the oars was the shortest. The rest of the fleet are still out there - rowing hard.

(Photograph omitted)

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before