Taking on the Three Peaks Yacht Race

Last May, my friend and fellow Halifax Harrier, Dene Townend, asked me if I’d compete in a race with him. When is it? I asked. Three weeks away, he replied. No problem! Well actually there was. What I didn’t realise was that he was talking about the Three Peaks Yacht Race — one of the toughest endurance events in the UK.

Dene has a depth perception problem for which he is registered blind. Although he can see to some extent, he cannot tell whether his foot is about to land on flat ground or a 45 degree slope, or if that pothole is six inches or two foot deep. The person he had been training with had to drop out and he needed a stand in to guide him when running over the mountains.

The race involved sailing from Barmouth on the mid Wales coast to Fort William via Caernarfon and Whitehaven in Cumbria. At each point, myself and Dene had to jump out and run inland over Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis — the three highest peaks in Wales, England and Scotland.

We were part of a crew made up of blind, partially sighted, and fully sighted runners and sailors — the first mixed ability crew ever to take on the challenge. The purpose was to show that people with disabilities can take on and complete challenges that most people wouldn’t ever contemplate attempting.

We didn't get much rest on the way up to Caernarfon due to sea sickness, and the fact that we flipped the boat over near the cliffs at Bardsey, and our first run of 24 miles started at midnight in horizontal driving rain, with low cloud on Snowdon. The sail up the Irish sea to Whitehaven was in storm force 10 seas and we then had to tackle almost 50 miles of mountain biking and running to reach Scafell Pike.

Fortunately the sailing leg up the West Coast was a lot smoother and we arrived in Fort William a little more relaxed for the final 18 miler up Ben Nevis.

All in all the race took 4½ days and we finished ninth out of 15 starters, five of which never even made it to Scotland. Objective achieved. Would I do it again? At the time I said definitely not but, looking back, it was a great achievement, and I made some great new friends through it!

We even all met up again to watch the start of this year's race — from the safety of dry land this time!

Heath Reilly [1978–1985]

Neil Baird [1979–1984] writes:

Heath Reilly was a member of the first mixed ability team to complete the fearsome Three Peaks Yacht Race. This involved running up (and down) Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis, with a lot of rough sailing and cycling between the Peaks. Heath and his visually impaired partner completed the race in four days, eight hours and four minutes, which was a remarkable achievement.

Thanks to Neil Baird for supplying the information.

First appeared in Newsletter dated