The H&R Block Three Peaks Race Wrap

Words by Terry Travers and Kerry Scambler and Photos by Paul Scambler

It’s said that the weather in Tasmania can be all things to all people in just a few days and Easter 2012 certainly proved this adage, just in time for the annual H&R Block Three Peaks Race. This is a non-stop offshore sailing and endurance mountain running event that this year in particular lived up to its sub-title of The Unique Endurance Challenge.

Three Peaks Race - H&R Block
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Twelve teams entered (4 catamarans and 8 monohulls) with round-the-world sailor Jessica Watson aboard the mauve Mobile Travel Agents Big Wave Rider cat of renowned sailor Bruce Arms attracting a lot of attention. All were keen to get underway but none would have quite envisaged what the days ahead held.

Three Peaks Race - Offshore Sailing
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Underway in the 2012 H&R Block Three Peaks Race

The Calm Before the Storm

At 2pm on Good Friday, with not a breath of wind on the Tamar River and watched by 6,000 people lining the wharf, the twelve teams were forced to row away from the Beauty Point start line, aided only by their own exertions with the oars and an outgoing tide. At this point 2011 winner Peccadillo unveiled its “secret” pedalling system (see photo further down the page) with high aspect propeller blades that moved the big catamaran well but not enough to be first over the line.

Three Peaks Race - Beauty Point
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A big crowd wave off the Three Peaks Race fleet from Beauty Point, Tasmania

Taking that honour was team Whistler Sport, a Thompson 920 sports boat with two sets of sweep oars. By the time the yachts rowed into a strengthening northerly, Whistler Sport had the jump and was first past the Low Head light and its ominous fog horn farewell.  Fog blanketed Bass Strait, making for some rather ethereal photos, as the yachts made slow progress towards Flinders Island in a light north easterly. But a front was forecast…

Winds Hit the Fleet

Later Friday evening the front swept through the fleet, the wind backed to the west and increased until it was blowing a steady 50 knots with gusts into the mid 60’s – well beyond expectations.  Leader MTA Big Wave Rider reduced sail progressively until they were doing 19 knots under just storm jib. Advantedge destroyed her mainsail, UK Peaks Challenge couldn’t get their main to work to windward and eventually ran through Banks Strait and out to sea, while Whistler Sport sought shelter behind Clarke Island.


 

MTA Big Wave Rider arrived at Flinders Island first around 2am followed by Deguello Brierley Marine but each took nearly half an hour to tidy up, motor to the wharf and tie up. The small welcoming group on the wharf, hidden behind coats, beanies and scarves and leaning against the gale force winds, was in awe of the team’s efforts in the conditions and even more so when the two runners leapt off the boat, apparently keen for their 65km run to Mt Strzelecki in the dark. Although perhaps hardly surprising at all really – they were probably just happy to be off the rough seas and onto land!

Three Peaks Race - Flinders Island
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Challenging conditions welcomed the Three Peaks Race teams to Flinders Island

Advantedge struggled in as first monohull and Haphazard, in its 24th race, heart-breakingly ran aground on a nearby sandy spit, fortunately with no crew injuries. Eventually Euphoria Furniture, Peccadillo, Elphinstone Weigh To Go, Centre Euro Wines, Apollonius and Tilt Genesis Fitness all made it safely into port and set their runners to shore.

Three Peaks Race - Haphazard
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Haphazard runs aground in the challenging conditions of the Three Peaks Race

With the fleet held by organisers until conditions improved, the teams made the most of the unexpected time to repair damaged equipment and rest after the arduous night’s sailing. Winds then abated from gale strength to strong and the fleet was released, sending them on their way.

Kinder Conditions on the East Coast

Prudent sail selection meant all arrived safely at Coles Bay, most enjoying morning sunshine on the beautiful Hazards and a warm welcome from locals. Runners, feeling far more rested than the previous night’s sailing, were sent on their 35km run.  Advantedge sailed this leg with just a trysail and arranged for an old main to be transported to Coles Bay to meet them – more work for the onboard team whilst the runners enjoyed their jaunt around Freycinet Peninsula!

Runners Chris Wight and John Winsbury from Peccadillo broke the record for the run through Freycinet National Park that has stood since 1997 but unfortunately one runner from Elphinstone Weigh To Go experienced difficulty on Mt Freycinet which resulted in the team’s retirement from the race.

Critical Decisions at the Canal

From Coles Bay, it’s down the coast to Hobart and on this leg, MTA Big Wave Rider almost threw the race away when they elected to take the Denison Canal shortcut. Strong tidal outflow and 20 knot winds blowing out of the canal prevented transit, a delay compounded when they were also forced to wait out the compulsory midnight to 4am bridge closure.


 

At the first opportunity, the big cat was on its way but only by manhandling it through the canal with crew in the water and lines ashore. Finally they were on their way to Hobart ahead of their opposition: Advantedge, Euphoria Furniture and Peccadillo who elected to sail around Tasman Island. Seas over 4 metres and a 25-30 knot south westerly in Storm Bay prevented these yachts from overtaking MTA Big Wave Rider.

Three Peaks Race - Peccadillo
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2011 winner Peccadillo unveiled its “secret” pedalling system

The days of hard conditions were beginning to take their toll with the remainder of the fleet who chose the canal either retiring or opting for the 18 hour time penalty and motoring through before resuming sailing.

The Last of the Three Peaks and the Finishing Line

By Monday evening the winning multi-hull team, MTA Big Wave Rider, had received their accolades after the final mountain run, and all other teams had arrived in Hobart and their runners all safely returned from their 33km run to Mt Wellington. Snow, sleet and strong winds had buffeted the runners on this final peak completing the kaleidoscope of conditions that defined the 2012 H&R Block Three Peaks Race.

Three Peaks Race - Jessica Watson
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Jessica Watson and the crew of MTA Big Wave Rider claiming the Three Peaks Race trophy

Although Peccadillo rested in Port Arthur for a few hours and was behind Euphoria Furniture into Hobart, their gun runners retook second in the multi-hull division, a great achievement. Advantedge’s persistence brought them the monohull division trophy. Centre Euro Wines and Apollonius both officially arrived in Hobart with a time penalty to add, but the Apollonius runners did not complete the mountain together, leaving Centre Euro Wines as second placed mono-hull.

Three Peaks Race - Mount Wellington
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Runners tackle Mount Wellington in the final hurdle of the Three Peaks Race

Despite being a tough year, all teams acknowledged the challenge was worth the enormous effort and they are still keen to face it all again in the 2013 Three Peaks Race (the 25th race) which is shaping up to be a full house.

Three Peaks Race - H&R Block Stall
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Some of the team from H&R Block, the major sponsors of the Three Peaks Race

Note: Haphazard was re-floated from White Beach on
Saturday evening and sailed back to Beauty Point on Tuesday
with no injury to the crew or damage to the boat.

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Map: Three Peaks Race, Tasmania…