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61st Yachtmaster Insurance Three Rivers Race at Horning Sailing Club

by Holly Hancock 29 May 2022 19:59 BST 28-29 May 2022

There are few races as iconic, memorable or challenging as the Yachtmaster Insurance Three Rivers Race and, in its 61st year, the 2022 race over Saturday 28th-Sunday 29th May was no exception.

Attracting entrants from far and wide to take part in the Broads endurance event, competition was wide open from the start and, ultimately, it proved to be a race that favoured the slower craft, won by now seven times winner Stuart Rix, a previous Wayfarer World Champion, sailing Wayfarer Black Magic, crewed by David Ling - and making it the most times that the race has been won by the same individual.

With the forecast for an increasing breeze during the day, in contrast to last year's light winds, there was some trepidation amongst competitors prior to the start, but nerves quickly dissipated as excitement and atmosphere took over - and spectators came out in their droves to enjoy the start from Horning Sailing Club. The Race Organising Committee were also joined by Race Creator David Hastings MBE, who treated those present to the story of how the race began: its beginnings came from when he was serving in the Royal Air Force in Germany, and a 24-hour race had begun on a lake in Germany, which planted the seed for the Three Rivers. Some years later, when David was back in Norfolk on Horning's Committee, Eric Smith had given the Club a new trophy to be awarded for a race with a difference - and David was tasked with coming up with an idea. From this, together with Eric, Peter Mallender and Dickie Keogh, the idea of the Three Rivers Race came into existence. Whilst David's original plan to sail the three major rivers - the Bure, the Yare and the Waveney required a rethink due to concerns about boats potentially drifting out to sea, David came up with the Bure, Ant and Thurne - which is the race that still runs today. He expressed his delight at the race still going strong, 62 years after he first came up with the idea.

Today, just like that very first race back in 1961, competitors can 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 below Stokesby at the Stracey Arms, it is up to competitors to choose the best route based on tide and wind conditions.

With just under 100 boats leaving Horning split into 15 starts, the race began relatively uneventfully, with boats raising their colourful spinnakers as they made their way through the village and out into open water. The northerly wind direction also meant that the first part of the course known as "Horning Street" cleared quickly. It was down to tactics - and this year choosing the right route really was a make-or-break decision. Whilst sailing the Ludham (Ant) or South Walsham legs on the way out or return did not seem to have a significant impact, it was all about the Bridges-and tides. For those that chose to go to Acle first, this proved to be costly, with the turning buoy close to the Stracey Arms windpump and a strong tide at Stokesby making it difficult to make progress back towards Acle, despite the breeze. This was particularly problematic for some of the sailing cruisers who, on losing momentum, later found themselves struggling to make it past the bend close to the Ferry Inn, several opting to wait in the reeds for more favourable conditions.

For those that opted to sail to Hickling first, they were rewarded with the tide helping them along the River Thurne, and the cheers of the large crowds that had congregated at Potter Heigham Bridge to see all the action. First to Potter was Chris Bolton sailing Yeoman Folly Too, who ultimately finished 6th overall. Not far behind to the Bridge was Norfolk Punt Comet, helmed by Richard Whitefoot (2019 winner), who would eventually be the boat that had the fastest passage, making it back to Horning at just before 8pm, finishing 7th overall.

The bridges provided their usual share of entertainment and drama, particularly at Acle, where a strong tide and wind made this challenging for competitors, with two dismastings. Several crews were also forced to carry out running repairs and made it back under reduced rigs. At Potter Heigham, given the increasingly blustery conditions, only a brave few decided to shoot the Bridge, much to the delight of spectators, leaving it to the last second to drop the rigs - and thankfully making it in time. Particularly impressive bridge shootings came from the Yare & Bures, including the young team of Jack Copping and Toby Pearce sailing in Scarce Copper, who would go on to finish 9th overall and James Dugdale and Martin Thompson in Ghost, who had a fantastic race to finish in 2nd place - both raising the rigs to sail between the old and new road Bridges. There were also several tight squeezes under Potter Heigham Bridge, as boats tried to get through two at a time, struggling to make it under against the tide, and unexpected swims from crew members having misjudged the edge of the deck! Heigham Sound and Hickling Broad also created their own challenges - with boats going aground or becoming entangled in weed, and Yare & Bure Painted Jezebel being forced to retire after becoming hooked on a post and starting to sink after taking on water, and a Sailfish being dismasted.

However, for many, it was a quick race. Stuart Rix finished just 48 minutes over the water behind the first punt, with two further Wayfarers, John Clementson's Fiasco, and Paul Wren's Haven't a Clue close behind, finishing third and fourth respectively. Whilst the winds kept up, almost forty boats finished prior to midnight, although the winds proved challenging for some and several dinghies capsized, finding it particularly difficult sailing between Acle Bridge to St Benet's Abbey - with a long, hard beat back to the finish line. And for those that were out once the wind dropped, it was a long, cold and damp night ahead, with short sharp rain showers and chilly conditions on the water. Whilst a few boats were able to make it back sooner, the majority then were not able to make it back until around 9am once the tide turned to bring boats back to Horning.

Completing the top 15 results were Roger Hannant's Yeoman Firefly in 5th, as lead Yeoman; Matt Ellis's River Cruiser Breeze in 8th (first River Cruiser); and Nick Heath's Broads One Design Dipper in 10th. In 11th was last year's winner Chris Pank in Moonraker, with Chris Bunn's Joy 12th (both river cruisers). 13th was Jack Barnham in Rebel H (lead Rebel), Kevin Edwards 14th in Norfolk Dinghy Minnie and Chris Haslam 15th in Norfolk Punt Grebe. All of these finishers had opted to sail to Hickling Broad first. The race saw 71 finishers in total, and two more that did not finish due to being out of time.

Every bit as exhausting, exhilarating and exciting as competitors could wish for, with plenty of action and drama - it was a great race and, will hopefully continue for many years to come.

The full Race results and trophy list are available here and here.

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