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Yachtmaster Insurance 60th Three Rivers Race

by Holly Hancock 7 Jun 11:50 BST 5-6 June 2021

The Yachtmaster Insurance Three Rivers Race made a welcome return to the Norfolk Broads on Saturday 5th June/Sunday 6th June, for its 60th Anniversary.

Hosted by Horning Sailing Club, the Race sees competitors tackle the course in any order, covering some 50 miles across the Broads within a 24-hour time limit. With turning buoys at Ludham Bridge, South Walsham Broad, Hickling Broad and Stokesby, it was up to competitors to choose the best route based on tide and wind conditions.

An idea first conceived by David Hastings, Peter Mallender, Dickie Keogh and Eric Smith in 1961 as a new challenge for Horning Sailing Club members, originally the plan was to sail the three major rivers of the Broads - these being the Bure, the Yare and the Waveney. However, concern was expressed about a number of small boats potentially drifting out to sea, and instead it was decided that the boats would turn at a moveable buoy between Stokesby and Six Mile House on the River Bure. To make the "three" rivers, it was agreed that the boats would turn before Ludham Bridge on the River Ant, and at Hickling Broad Sailing Club on the River Thurne - thus the Three Rivers Race - following the Bure, Thurne and Ant, came into existence.

The very first race was held on Saturday 16th June 1961, with nineteen boats starting in a brisk breeze. Overnight, the conditions turned to gale-force winds, and first boat home at 11.30pm on that moonless night was a Yare and Bure One Design "Brimstone", helmed by Hugh Tusting, who had to hail a sleeping race officer for a finishing bell! David Hastings, in his dinghy "Flying Enterprise", was awarded the Bosun's Call B Trophy. Back then, competitors had to jump out of their boats and run along muddy riverbanks to mark their passing of a turning point. Today, safety is very much at the forefront of the organisers' minds, but the Race is every bit as exhausting and exhilarating.

In contrast to that first race, 2021 saw very light winds forecast, and getting the tides right became crucial - the competitors aiming to sail with the tide for as much of the Race as possible. With an estimated 25% of competitors new to the Race, endurance would be the main challenge. Crews participating came from all over the country - Hertfordshire, Rutland, Birmingham and Somerset - to name but a few. Some 100+ boats left Horning across 15 starts, the boats ranging from dinghies such as Wayfarers to traditional Broads boats, from the Yare & Bure One Design to Norfolk Punts and River Cruisers, right through to the impressive Thames A Raters, three of these making their traditional trip from the Thames to take part. With the wind behind the competitors, spinnakers were raised through The Street at Horning, much to the delight of the appreciative spectators watching from the riverbank, having missed the spectacle last year when the race was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions.

After an overcast start, the sun quickly broke through and a gentle breeze picked up to provide very pleasant sailing conditions, with a large number of competitors opting to sail the narrow Ant leg to Ludham Bridge, and fewer tackling South Walsham Broad through the trees in Fleet Dyke. At Thurne Mouth, almost all competitors chose to sail to the Lower Bure buoy first, which this year was positioned at Stokesby given the tide predictions, with just a handful sailing to Hickling first. This would prove to be a relatively decisive move, with the overall winner on handicap, Chris Pank sailing River Cruiser "Moonraker", having made good progress sailing the Hickling route, and second-placed Norfolk Punt "Comet", helmed by Richard Whitefoot (2019 winner) taking the same decision. Third-placed Thames A Rater "Atlantis" helmed by Julian Smith was first boat home, arriving at the Clubhouse at around 10.30pm, having sailed to Stokesby first.

There was the usual fair share of excitement and entertainment at the Bridges, with some equally impressive shooting of the Bridges, and nervewracking near misses. David Means in Yare & Bure "Painted Jezebel" had a textbook mast drop under Acle Bridge on the way to Stokesby, before losing his footing on the return and taking a swim, eventually finishing 6th overall on handicap.

After the first three boats finished the race between 10.30pm and just after midnight, it would be some nine or so hours before the next boat arrived back to Horning. By nightfall, the majority of the fleet were situated between Hickling Broad and Potter Heigham Bridge and, with the wind having dropped as forecast, those fighting the tide struggled to make progress - facing an agonising wait for the tide to bring them home. Once dawn broke and a very gentle wind started to pick up, the fleets began quietly gliding back into Horning, with a race against time to finish before the 24-hour limit. The fleets were so condensed towards the end that the results were very much down to handicap - with many of the boats that would usually be expected to finish towards the front of the fleet actually finishing towards the end, including a number of fast river cruisers and Norfolk Punts. Sailing Cruiser "Pickle" helmed by Phil Montague came in 4th overall, and the first halfdecker - a Broads One Design "Dipper" sailed by Nick Health - was 5th overall. First Yeoman was Roger Hannant's "Firefly", finishing 7th, with Production Cruiser "Papillion" helmed by Archie Campbell 8th. Peter Bainbridge's Yarmouth One Design "Helen" 9th. Completing the top 10 was Anthony Peet's Yeoman "Mite Fly". First Wayfarer, and dinghy over 12% handicap was British Sailing Team member George Povall sailing "Catspaw", finishing 15th.

For some, frustratingly they finished just outside the time limit, including one boat just 3 minutes after - and although the Race ultimately saw some 70 retirements due to the conditions overnight, 33 finished - and, whilst tired, all agreed that it had been brilliant to get back on the water and they had enjoyed the sailing.

60 years on, the Race still provides a great draw to the Broads for competitors and spectators alike and, in the true nature of the Race, continues to be a great test of seamanship - but not only that - it provides a real sense of challenge and adventure and also provides an opportunity for all generations to sail together - a rather fitting tribute to the Race's legacy.

The full results can be found here, and the trophy list here.

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