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62nd Three Rivers Race at Horning Sailing Club

by Holly Hancock 5 Jun 15:24 BST 3-4 June 2023

On Saturday 3rd June 2023 hundreds of sailors descended on Horning Sailing Club in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, some from as afield as New Zealand and the USA, in eager anticipation of the 62nd Three Rivers Race, sponsored by Yachtmaster Insurance and Panks.

With the breeze picking up early in the morning, the conditions looked promising and the sunshine was very welcome. After the competitor briefing, the start sequence began, with the first fleet away at 11am. Thereafter the boats started in fleets of approximately 10 boats from small dinghies through to larger river cruisers. Amongst the line up was the return of four impressive Thames A Raters, having made the journey from the Thames, their 40-foot rigs towering above many of the other classes, a strong fleet of 12 Wayfarer dinghies, and just under half the entrants were sailing cruisers. Unusually, not one of the 103 starters was over the line at the start, much to the delight of the large crowds who had gathered both at the Sailing Club and in the Village in Horning, on the green and lining the banks of the stretch of river known as "The Street".

With a NE wind, getting out of the Street was relatively straightforward, although memories of a bottleneck a few years ago came flooding back as competitors sailed towards the Church, as a gaggle of the first few starters - Yeomans, Wayfarers and Yare & Bures - struggled to make it round the corner. Thankfully this soon dissipated and once out of the trees the breeze picked up to provide lively racing. As always, it was up to competitors to choose the route to sail, taking into account tide and wind conditions. Given the fresh breeze, the Race Officer set one of the longest courses possible - along the River Ant to Ludham Bridge, Fleet Dyke and onto South Walsham Broad, through Acle Bridge past Stokesby and down to the Stracey Arms Windpump, and through Potter Heigham Bridge onto Hickling Broad. Competitors knew they had a long slog ahead, to cover some 50 miles across the Norfolk Broads, and all to return within 24 hours.

A little over half the fleet opted to the do the Ludham Bridge leg first - this is a very narrow stretch of river, at times only the width of a boat length or two, which can get very busy - but for many this gamble paid off, only one of the top ten finishers having not taken this route. 80% of the fleet also opted to sail to South Walsham first - meaning that the vast majority sailed at least one leg, only a handful leaving both for the return. Back on the main river, the route took competitors past St Benet's Abbey on the River Bure down to Thurne Mouth, for the next big decision - whether to go to Hickling or the Lower Buoy.

With the tide due to turn at around 6.30pm, this was a deciding factor for many - the vast majority opting to sail to Hickling first, then trying to make it to the Lower Buoy before the tide turned. No matter which route was taken, the first hurdle for many, beyond the start, is to tackle one of the bridges, these being approached with equal amounts of trepidation, fear and excitement. As they suddenly appear into view, along with the crowds of spectators present to witness all the action, it's full steam ahead to prepare. Some sailors will have been practising for this moment for months, whereas others will just go for it - but each have their own method. Particularly impressive are those sailing craft that "shoot" the bridges - that is, leaving it to the very last second to drop the rig under the Bridge - much to the excitement of those watching. There were slick mast droppings from many of this year's top ten, including race winners Martin Thompson and James Dugdale in Yare & Bure Dingy Skipper, who sailed between the Bridges at Potter Heigham, improving on last year's second position overall. Boats were flying across Hickling Broad as the wind picked up - the bow waves from some boats so great that a Norfolk punt was submerged! Acle Bridge also saw its fair share of action, and as the breeze kept up, with some strong gusts, it was a tough beat back to Thurne Mouth.

First boat back to Horning was Thames A Rater Atlantis helmed by Julian Smith, making it back in a little over eight hours in an impressive time at 19:57:08, taking the Stanley Facey Memorial Salver (on handicap finishing in 23rd Overall), followed just over 10 minutes later by previous winner Richard Whitefoot sailing Norfolk Punt Comet, who won the Bosun's Call A and Coffee Pot Trophy, for first dinghy 12% or less and the leading Norfolk Punt (finishing in 8th Overall).

Overall winner Martin Thompson was home at 21:39:47 (winning the New Three Rivers Trophy, Peter Cumming Tankard for non-HSC member, Puffin Trophy for first Half Decker on handicap and Howes Salver for leading YBOD), just a few seconds behind Roger Hannant and Chris Tuckett sailing Yeoman Firefly, who would come second on handicap, winning the Yachtmaster Insurance Trophy for Second Overall, the Trudi Memorial Trophy for first HSC member and Ivybank Jug for the leading Yeoman. Third place went to John Clementson and Guy Marks sailing Wayfarer Compleat Fiasco finishing at 21:23:48, equalling their third place position last year, who won the Bosun's Call B (for dinghy over 12%), the Night Light Trophy for the leading Wayfarer, and Charles Hickling Memorial (for average age over 55).

As the sun set and the spectacular strawberry moon rose over the water, the Broads became a mystical, magical place - and the wind and temperature also dropped. For those making it back with the tide, it was to be a relatively short night - some 28 boats making it home before midnight. After then, just two more boats made it before dawn, the remainder - well over 50, having to wait for the tide to turn once more. For some, this was extremely frustrating - Phil Montague, sailing river cruiser Pickle, had the Clubhouse in his sight for two hours before eventually crossing the line at 6.15am - even worse when you are close enough to smell the breakfasts being cooked!

Thankfully, incidents were few and far between, but included a broken mast, a cruiser taking on water and another cruiser becoming firmly wedged across Potter Heigham Bridge. With 79 finishers, the vast majority of retirements were due to gear failure rather than the wind conditions, and only one sailor was timed out of finishing. With approximately 25 entrants being first timers to the race, it was a brilliant introduction to the Three Rivers Race, with many looking forward to the 2024 race already!

Completing the top ten were Tim Frary sailing River Cruiser India in 4th - winning the Melody Trophy (River Cruiser on Handicap) and Mora Cruiser Cup (River Cruiser with fastest passage), in 5th was Paul Wren in Wayfarer Haven't a Clue. 6th was River Cruiser Ladybird helmed by Clive Richardson, and 7th Yare & Bure Kallima helmed by Toby Pearce, who won the BeWILDerwood Trophy for leading helm under 25, while the Colin Haddow Trophy went to his crew Jack Copping (leading HSC crew of a YBOD or Rebel). 8th was Comet, and in 9th River Cruiser Moonraker helmed by Chris Pank. In 10th was Yeoman Aquamarine helmed by Andrew Gallant. Unusually, there was no one fleet dominating the top ten results - although the conditions did not favour the faster dinghies on this occasion.

Completing the trophy list were Peter Brown in Rebel Rothay winning the Jubilee Cup for leading Rebel; George Povall in Wayfarer Black Magic winning the Wildgoose Cup for leading female helm; Mark Elson winning the Elias Trophy in River Cruiser Sprite for handicap of 12% or over; Stuart Bailey helming Reedling Jaws winning the Fiftieth Anniversary Trophy for leading Reedling. The Navigators Trophy for first 3RR on handicap went to Emily Haslam sailing Norfolk Punt Grebe, whilst the Green Ginger Cup for the leading Production Cruiser on handicap went to Archie Campbell in Papillon. The NBYCo Trophy for the leading Hire Cruiser on handicap went to Paul Piggin sailing Hustler 5, whilst the Lysander Trophy for the last boat to finish, with a time of over 20 hours, went to Ruari MacGibbon sailing Half Decker Brown Bess, finishing at just before 11am on Sunday morning. Finally, the team trophy went to Snowflake Sailing Club.

The Race started when David Hastings MBE had an idea deriving 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.

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