Unexpectedly, I ended up with an entry in this year’s Scottish Islands Peaks Race, running with Graham Kelly. SIPR is a combined sailing and running event: three sailors and two runners (who run as a pair). The race starts in Oban with a short loop around the hill above the harbour (to spread the field out for the start), we then sails to Mull. The runners do a 38km run up Ben More and back, then sail all night to Jura. On Jura, run the three Paps, then sail around the Mull of Kintyre to Lamlash on Arran. A final run up Goatfell, then sail to the finish at Troon.

It was a race of two halves for us. We had a crack team of sailors in the Cruiser (=slowest) boat class, and they pulled out all the stops on the night sail from Mull to Jura. Dodging around islands and semi-submerged rocks in the pitch dark. We did a solid (tough!) run on Jura, then got back to find the wind had dropped and tide was against us, so the boats were going nowhere! Boats who had left Jura before us were seen drifting gently in the wrong direction. We did a brief recce to check if there was any breeze out along the coast, but got nowhere and resigned ourselves to staying in the harbour until morning. So, we had a pub meal and watched some footy — in the middle of a race where earlier seconds seemed to count!

Things started to fall apart the next morning. The captain’s son decided to pop back to the pub around midnight, and was never seen again! He evidently found some local lass, and turned off his mobile. So, when the wind picked up at 4am we couldn’t sail. By 7:30 we’d had enough, and made the decision to leave the bugger behind — put money for him to take a ferry in a plastic bag under a rock, and caught the last of a dying breeze. Too late, unfortunately, as the wind died after an hour and the tide started to turn. Rowing was no longer an option, and we had no real choice but to turn on the motor and officially retire from the sailing part. After further adventures (water in the diesel, catching the propeller on a lobster pot rope, circling in an ebbing tide) we reached Arran at midnight. Had a fantastic, exhausted night run to the summit of Goatfell in the dark, and then motored to the finish in Troon.

A strange and challenging race. 100km and five summits, with bugger all sleep and a few erratic meals in between. We were lucky with the weather (fine and warm), but unlucky with the wind — and with one of the crew! Graham was a great running partner, always positive and supportive. A race where the results matter less than the adventure, and there is sure to be some of that.

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