Scottish Islands Peaks Race 2019 – Smooth Sailing

“It’s a Blizzard Bag – a bright, orange brick covered in plastic – it’s very obvious,” said Ruth on the phone in Connel on Thursday night.

“Well if it’s very obvious, how did they leave it on the bloody train?” snorted the Oban station-meister on the other end of the line before bursting out laughing.

It was difficult to disagree. Our skipper, Brian, had gone above and beyond the call of duty by sweet-talking his way on to the locked train to conduct a personal search, but the Blizzard Bag was nowhere to be seen.

I’m still not sure how we managed to leave the least-replaceable item on the kit-list on the train from Glasgow, but at least it was the one I borrowed from Niall and not my own.

Don’t worry guys, I wrote on the Whatsapp Group, the competence will kick in tomorrow. And it did.

A replacement Blizzard Bag was found (thanks SIPR!) and before long we were on the first run, a wee trail loop in Oban. We lost a few places when Ruth insisted on queuing for the kissing gate rather than follow me over the gate (“Route-choice Crewe!” I screamed), but otherwise it went smoothly, with tapps-aff sunshine from beginning to end.

We managed a clean rendezvous with Sorr of Appin (our boat) in Oban harbour – good thing we practiced rowing the dinghy beforehand. The first sail was a delight; Mediterranean  sunshine, seeing a crowd of porpoises and the view of the SIPR fleet working its way up the Sound of Mull.

Coming ashore at Salen I was shocked at how hot it was and for the first hour or so I was worried about overheating. We were soon passing the top of Ben More and tearing down the scree-slopes feeling fast & strong as the mountains were bathed in the golden light of dusk was a moment to savour. The road out was the usual drag – Ruth put in a great performance, saying it was the hardest piece of running she’d ever done. She looked strong throughout so I’m not sure I believe her.

Back on the boat I had 2 after-dinner Stugeron pills which, in addition to suppressing travel-sickness, knocked me clean out. Turns out I enjoy sailing the most when heavily medicated.

Our crew pulled a blinder over Friday night to deliver us to Jura early on a drizzly Saturday morning. The run went well, despite a slight error on the second pap resulting in unnecessary fannying around on bouldery-scree. It was good to see JD in the village hall – thanks for the juice! Back on the boat it was the usual routine of eating as much as possible before getting comfortable and resting going round the Mull of Kintyre.

Things got choppy over night but, thanks to the Stugeron, I was able to sleep through most of it. I snapped out of my drug-induced stupor around 1am as there was a lot of screaming on deck. It was dark and the seas were rough. After listening for a couple of minutes, I couldn’t work out if the shouts meant mild irritation with the wind or if the boat was about to sink and we were going to die. Either way, there wasn’t anything I could do so I put my ear plugs back in and rolled over.

The pressure was on for Arran, with Soar of Appin neck-and-neck with Aurora for 1st place in Class 3. We probably weren’t going to beat the Shettleston team from Aurora but we just needed to give our sailors enough time to get them on the water. Amazingly, six teams set off from Lamlash within 5 minutes of one another – the start of the run was a sociable affair. Thanks to some nifty route choices we managed to get overtaken three times by a very strong team before we’d even left Brodick. We got to see Goatfell change colour as the sun rose and from the top there was a stunning cloud-inversion over Glen Sannox. We got back to the boat just 5 minutes after the Aurora runners. The best moment of the weekend? Sitting on the deck of Soar in Lamlash bay, bare feet dangling over the side, cracking open a morning can in the sunshine and just knowing there was no more running to do.

Our crew put in a fantastic effort on sail across to Troon but we couldn’t quite catch-up with Aurora who got the well-deserved first-place. It took some exciting rowing and a sprint up the pontoon but we just made it in to the top 10 by 90s – a testament to the overall running/sailing strength of our team. Time for drinks on deck!

For a race with a lot of potential to go wrong, SIPR 2019 was remarkably stress-free – smooth sailing all the way.

Thanks to Ruth, Brian, Murray and Mark for being brilliant company throughout the weekend – am already looking forward to 2020.


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