MTA Big Wave Rider's Three Peaks Win

Australia Multihull World Power & Sail #119 Mar/Apr 2013 by Bruce Arms

This was to be our third H&R Block Three Peaks Race and we wanted to make sure that we would have a good chance of winning. But with this race, anything can happen, and it did!

The Australian Three Peaks Race is a non-stop multi sport endurance event held every Easter in Tasmania. The race starts in the Tamar River at Beauty Point and ends in Hobart, after three gruelling sailing legs covering 335 nautical miles and the runners going up three mountains, running 133 kilometres with a total ascent of 2646 metres.

Apart from Suzanne and I, we needed four other crew - two more sailors, one of whom had to be a back up runner, and two super fit mountain runners. We also needed some sponsors to help us and to make sure Big Wave Rider was ready to race.

We decided to have a crew of young and experienced Three Peaks racers.

On the youth side Jessica Watson was a great choice as she has sailed many miles on Big Wave Rider and had recently improved her racing skills with her Sydney to Hobart campaign. Then there was Locky Pryor from Sydney (his father Martin started the Three Peaks Race and was to be our shore crew).  He is a sailing coach at Middle Harbour Yacht Club, is super fit and he trained hard to be the backup runner/sailor. Locky would to do anything asked of him which included rowing the boat and kedging with the anchor to pull Big Wave Rider if needed, and of course sailing.

On the experienced side, along with Suzanne and I, were the runners. There was John Kent who had raced with us before, knew all about the race and sailing on Big Wave Rider, and would row if needed. The other runner was Andy Kromer, a legendary three peaks racer. Andy has competed in nine Three Teaks races. This was his tenth; he is a multiple winner and would row as well if needed.

The start line was a 1000 mile sail away from our home port. We had to do all the preparation work before we left Mooloolaba Marina so there was not too much to do when we got there. Most of the preparation work involved a lot of maintenance and checking Big Wave Rider over very well especially the rig, sails and rudders.  

After the many miles and the hard time she had in my successful solo around Australia world record attempt we wanted to make sure Big Wave Rider was in top condition again. If you get your preparation right you have no problems during the race. You can just concentrate on sailing the boat and the racing without having to fix things along the way.

While stopped at the Gold Coast waiting for a weather window to sail to Sydney we had a helicopter photo shoot courtesy of our naming sponsors Mobile Travel Agents who are based there. After a great sail to Sydney we stopped at Middle Harbour Yacht Club to take Locky out for a sail on Mobile Travel Agents Big Wave Rider so he knew a bit about the boat before the race. After Sydney it was a stop at Bermagui then across Bass Strait to Flinders Island. As part of the race preparation we wanted to re-check the Flinders Island area as we would be sailing into there in the dark during the race.

Arriving at Beauty Point in the Tamar River, the starting point of the race, we had a few sponsors commitments as well as getting ready to race. Luckily we did not have too much to do, mostly loading up the food and Easter eggs and filling in all the paper work. One of the great things that Jessica and I did was to have a fantastic flight over the West Tamar Valley and to visit the Hagley School farm and see the excellent work they are doing teaching the kids about where their food comes from.

With all the boats starting to arrive the excitement was building. Along with the four big cats there were some big fast monohulls and a British team - great to see them out here. We certainly had a race on our hands. After all the safety checks and briefings we enjoyed a great welcome party. The organisers and locals really go all out to make you feel at home.

The forecast was looking like very light northeast winds at the start then a westerly change of about 35 knots coming through during the evening. At the appointed start time of 2 pm there was no wind but at least there was an outgoing tide.

We started well back from the line so we would not get sucked over the line early. There was still no wind so we crossed the start line rowing, ouch, not the best way to start a sailing race. But this is no ordinary race that’s for sure. The wind slowly increased as we made our way down the river and finally we could stop rowing.

We sailed past Low Head, to the eerie sound of the lighthouse fog horn, sending us on our way out into Bass Strait. We made good progress in the light headwinds, sailing through the fleet and heading east, setting up for the approaching change.

 As we made our way towards Flinders Island we could see a lot of lightning behind us which was the approaching front. The wind suddenly increased to a 35 knot headwind which soon had us reefing the main and changing down to a staysail.

Approaching Flinders Island the wind backed to the west and increased to over fifty knots (this was not forecast). So it was down with the main altogether then a change from the staysail to the storm jib, which was a bit of a battle up on the nets with Mobile Travel Agents Big Wave Rider blasting along in the dark and water flying everywhere. We got the change completed with a bit of great crew work. There was a lot of racing left so we had to keep the boat and sails in one piece.

At this stage we did not know if we were first or last, we just wanted to get to Lady Barron safely and in one piece to offload the runners. Coming through Flinders Sound dodging sandbanks, islands and rocks in the dark with the wind over fifty knots and Mobile Travel Agents Big Wave Rider doing 15 to 20 knots under storm jib only was a bit frightening to say the least. Then it was a tight squeeze between Little and Great Dog Islands, metres from the rocks, a very scary place to take your boat into especially in those storm conditions. But we made it through. Checking out the course through there a week before certainly paid off.

Then it was “How the hell do we tie up to the wharf in fifty knots of wind and horizontal rain and not smash into it?”. This was going to take nerves of steel. In the end it took us 30 min but we managed to do it. All this was happening at 2 am and our sponsors Mobile Travel Agents were there waiting for us - very dedicated.

As it turned out we were first in.  Once tied up safely we managed to offload the runners for their 65 kilometre run. They had to run into that fifty knots of wind with rain and sand blasting them, climb a 700 metre mountain, and then run back to the boat.

Meanwhile the other boats were struggling to get to the finish line. Two decided to miss Flinders Island altogether and just survive out there in the atrocious conditions. They were the British team and Whistler Sport, a 9 metre sport boat. Both displayed great seamanship and got through the storm. Haphazard ended up on the beach when she could not tack in those winds or motor against them. She had over 60 knots of wind at the time but all were safe which is the main thing.

The conditions were still very extreme when our runners got back and about then the race committee wisely decided to postpone the start of the next leg until conditions moderated. I had been very worried that we could not have departed the wharf without damaging Mobile Travel Agents Big Wave Rider.

After 2pm that day they let us go and with deeply reefed sails the four catamarans – Mobile Travel Agents Big Wave Rider, Deguello Brierley Marine,  Euphoria Furniture Storm Bay and Peccadillo - and the leading monohull, Advantage, left on the next leg to Coles Bay. Under the very much reduced sail area we were third out but slowly started to overhaul the boats in front.

Peccadillo (last year’s winner) held the lead into Banks Strait but by the time we got to the east coast of Tasmania we had grabbed the lead back. We had been working very hard making the sail changes needed to keep boat speed up.  The conditions in Banks Strait were a bit rough but once on the east coast it was great sailing in the flatter water. The runners had a good sleep on this leg which they really needed after that harrowing first night sailing and their run in the storm conditions.

The sail down the east coast had us in the lead, slowly getting more sail area up and watching the lights of the chasing bunch disappearing behind. It was a great sail up into Coles Bay in the early morning light with boats coming out to greet us. A bit cold but there was a great crowd to greet us on the dock including our naming sponsors Mobile Travel Agents once again. They were having a great time following the race.

The runners took off for their run in daylight which was great for them. Then it was our turn to catch up on some sleep, check out Mobile Travel Agents Big Wave Rider and make sure all was good for the next leg. Our shore crew had done an amazing job, got us hot showers and a hot breakfast as well - great stuff! After all that we tried to get a little sleep before the runners returned. They returned after a great run, and we were off once again, still in the lead.

It was a great sail out of Coles Bay and through the Mercury Passage on a nice reach. We then had to make the big decision - try the short cut through the Denison Canal or take the longer way around Tasman Island. We decided that we had a chance at the canal before the wind changed.

As we sailed into Blackmans Bay the wind changed a bit more to the west. “Oh no, not yet!” we cried. We made it up to the markers at the entrance channel to the canal but the wind and the tide were against us. We tried to kedge the boat with a dingy and anchor but the tide was too strong and we had soon run out of puff.

At this stage I thought I had blown the race, with three of the other leading boats going around Tasman Island. It was a bit stressful at this stage, to say the least. We all sat down for a team meeting to discuss our options. We checked out the weather at Tasman Island. It looked not very nice out there so we decided to wait until the tide changed and we could row through the canal.

At midnight the tide had not eased enough and the canal then shut for four hours . It looked like the boats rounding Tasman island were having a real hard time. Peccadillo had pulled into Port Arthur because of the very bad and freezing conditions out there. So we had a bit more sleep.

We were up at 3.30 am to get going through the canal. Once we got going and into the canal it wasn’t too bad and we made good progress rowing. The bridge swung open at 4 am and we rowed through. Once through the narrow bridge opening we hoisted the jib but what happened next? We got blown straight onto the rocks.  Bugger!

I jumped straight off the bow into the freezing water with a rope tied around my waist to try and pull us into deeper water. Locky had to jump in as well to hold the stern off so the rudders would not get damaged or leave us stuck on the bottom or amongst the rocks.

We slowly made our way out into deeper water. After about an hour Locky and I were making some progress but were starting to get a bit cold. Jess was yelling at us to get out of the water but us stubborn males kept going a little bit longer until we were sure that we had deep enough water to sail out of there.

As we sailed out into Fredrick Henry Bay the wind was gusting up to 27 knots on the nose. Jess and Suzanne had to sail the boat as Locky and I were freezing, with numb feet and hands. Not a good look but we were still in with a chance so had to give it a good shot. The runners made us hot drinks and we slowly warmed up.

After rounding the Iron Pot it was a great reach up the Derwent River hitting speeds up to 18 to 20 knots at times and looking over our shoulders to see if anyone was close behind. After all the trouble at the canal we were still in front, just amazing . The last mile as we approached the finish line at Hobart was a bit shifty but at least we did not have to row. It was a nice morning in Hobart and there was a great crowd on the dock to greet us.

 The runners still had to complete the last run before we could win. They had extreme conditions again. At the top of Mt Wellington it was minus 10 degrees, snowing and blowing 30 knots, wow, what an ending to a very tough race.

As the runners took on the mountain we had hot showers and warmed up some more. It was a bit of a nervous wait for the runners to return given the horrible conditions at the top, but in the end they made it back OK. Just an awesome effort from them.

We all ran across the finish line together for a great win in one of the toughest Three Peaks races ever. It was amazing to win after all we had been through but it goes to show that in this race you never give up and you never know what might happen. The champagne after we crossed  the finish line tasted very sweet indeed.

A huge thanks must go to my amazing team who did an awesome job through the entire race, and of course my great sponsors: Mobile Travel Agents, Brierley Marine, Mersey Pharmacy, Tamar Marine, Musto, International Paints, Boat Names Australia and McMuro Safety for Professionals. It could not happen without you so a huge thanks to you. It is an amazing race - great scenery and very friendly locals who will do anything to help. It is a great sense of achievement just to finish. Anyone with a sense of adventure should give it a go. You will love it!

H&R Block Three Peaks Race                     
Bruce Arms