After a couple of years off, the team from Caol Ila decided to have another shot at the Scottish Islands Peaks Race. For us who are not regular runners, it takes a fair bit of effort to get from practically zero fitness into a state where we feel we can take on the SIPR hills. This year we were helped by having a couple of new guys join the team for the first time: My friend Andy from Dundee Uni Rucksack Club days and his mate Dave, both of whom are proper hill runners (especially Dave).
Having come on board Caol Ila on the Thursday evening in Oban, we had little time to familiarise ourselves with the boat before the start of the race. And no time to practice the various routines like dinghy launch and tacking. Friday was calm & still to begin with, but soon the wind picked up and the sun came out to provide the perfect conditions for the start of the race. Dave and Andy did a great start run in Oban and after a slightly less-than-slick pick-up we headed for Mull about half way down the field of 44 boats.
The southerly wind had moved to the west a bit, so it was quite a close haul for us up towards Lismore lighthouse as we enjoyed a light lunch in the gorgeous sunshine with just a wee bit of spray over the boat. A little after entering the Sound of Mull we seemed to be making good progress so I decided to get my head down for a bit of a nap before doing Ben More. Unfortunately that was the last I saw of any sunshine on this race. By the time I got up as we were coming in to Salen, the cloud cover was low and there was a light drizzle. Dave and I got ashore around 4.30 and after kit check we headed off for Ben More. Stiff legs for the first half hour but we kept going reasonably well, overtaking a couple of other pairs by the time we’d reached the first check-point. After a minor nav error, we started the bog-trot up towards the ridge, putting on more clothes as we got higher and the weather stayed wet.
However, it was a constant battle to stay warm with wet clothes as we eventually reached the summit. This was Dave’s final Munro, but we had no time for celebration as we started our descent, looking for the 3rd checkpoint. However, we drifted too far to the West and lost too much height before finally picking up the stream and climbing back up to the checkpoint around 9pm, an hour after leaving the summit. Visibility was still awful as we set off for the col, and again we drifted too low and missed the col. The cloud lifted to reveal our location and gave us a chance to get to the col just as it was getting dark. Night vision got us most of the way back to the track and once on the road with sore legs I could only manage to run periodically as we made it back to Salen and finished at 12.30 after 8 hours on the hill.
Back on the boat for a good feed and changed out of saturated clothes for a welcome sleep. Overnight light winds took us only part-way down the Sound of Mull by morning, gradually picking up from the South as we rounded Duart point past the castle with a couple of other boats visible in the mist around us. Tide was with us as we tacked repeatedly south, but progress came to an abrupt end as we passed Fladda and the tide turned against us. We were one of 4 boats that tacked back and forwards for half an hour to no avail.
Eventually we gave up and headed for an anchorage on nearby Eilean Dubh Mor to wait for the tide to change. Got some welcome sleep and rejoined the fight around 7pm on Saturday evening. With a strengthening Southerly wind over tide, it got pretty choppy with an hour of rough sea that had 3 of us being sick in short order. After retching over the side, probably round 10pm, I ended up taking the helm for a couple of hours which made me feel much better. But the rain got heavy again and I got wet through and cold. Went below decks but needed to stay in oilies so I couldn’t change into dry clothes and warm up. Huddled and waited for arrival in Craighouse but as the wind dropped it took John and Andrew until about 5am to get us in against the tide. Fantastic effort in navigation and endurance after a very long night.
After a good feed, Dave and Andy set off to do the Paps in rain and very low cloud (poor guys) but did a storming run and were back after 5 and a half hours. By this time the crew were well fed and rested and moral had been restored after taking a bit of a beating the night before. We got underway around midday Sunday in light winds and took several tacks to get out of the harbour. However, the breeze failed to freshen as we met the north-flowing tide in the Sound of Jura and started going backwards. Since there was 6 hours of tide left to go, it didn’t take long to work out that there wasn’t time to finish the race and have everyone back at work on Tuesday. After taking the reluctant decision to retire, we motored North with the tide to arrive in Oban by 7pm for a shower and steak at the marina.
Hope for better weather next time!