Runners and sailors are put to the test

Off Holy Island.
Off Holy Island.

Runners and sailors put their fitness to the test in a tough challenge on both land and sea.

Castles and Islands is Coquet Yacht Club’s annual 24-hour running and sailing challenge – 30 miles of running and more than 40 miles of sailing, all to be done in 24 hours.

The event attracted boats from Berwick down to Blyth and runners from the Borders to Bolton and Bristol.

Runners started at the gates of Alnwick Castle, ran cross-country to Warkworth Castle then to Amble Marina where they jumped on their respective boats and set sail.

The sailors raced the boats around Coquet Island then headed northwards, sailing into Newton for the runners to run to Dunstanburgh Castle and back; Seahouses for a run along the beach around Bamburgh Castle and back; and to Holy Island to run around the entire island.

Ten boats registered for the challenge, ranging from the largest at 41 feet (Charisma from Coquet Yacht Club) through the various sizes to Elver, a 23-foot Eventide skippered by Alistair, from Berwick Sailing Club.

Elver is a boat being maintained in the true Corinthian style of ‘if it’s broke, we’ll find a way to fix it’. The mast had recently broken so was replaced at short notice with the trunk from a Leylandi tree from Alistair’s garden.

His runners had to pull out at the last minute and were replaced by someone who had literally just got off the Ocean Youth Trust boat James Cook that morning to then start the challenge the same evening.

The first runners home set a blistering time for the 10-mile leg, meaning Nick Spurr on Spurrelli was first out of the harbour into the best of the wind.

Other boats followed in quick succession. But as the light died, so did the wind, down to nothing with a forecast for maximum gusts of one to two knots. Some boats elected to break out the oars and row north. Elver was perhaps slightly easier to row compared to the 35-foot yacht January First.

The rowing certainly helped with January First leaving the fleet behind to catch up with Spurrelli at Newton, only to find his runners were now almost finished that run.

As the lead boats started to leave Newton, the remaining fleet began to arrive. The lead boats were quickly caught as the wind filled in from behind, meaning the rear of the fleet caught the wind first. The whole fleet arrived at Seahouses en masse and it was down to the runners to make the real difference.

Once the Holy Island run was completed, the wind had defied the forecasters and piped up to 20-plus knots for a fast beat back to Amble with close-quarters racing between Jalfrezi and January First the whole way home, often crossing each others’ paths by mere feet.

Nick on Spurrelli was first boat home and won the cup for the fastest running team – finishing all runs in just over three hours 20 minutes.

Richard on Charisma took the rest of the cups for fastest sailing time (beating January First by six minutes after 18 hours of sailing!), overall winner of the event and for the best all-rounder (all members of the crew need to run at least one of the legs). Elver won the fastest lady runner prize.