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63rd Yachtmaster Insurance Ltd Three Rivers Race

by Holly Hancock 3 Jun 05:44 BST 1-2 June 2024

It's billed as a test of endurance and seamanship, and that's exactly what the 63rd Three Rivers Race proved to be on Saturday 1st June. Sponsored by Yachtmaster Insurance and Panks, and hosted by Horning Sailing Club on the Norfolk Broads, it was an eventful weekend's sailing.

It was also one of the fastest passages in the race's history, with near-on record times for Wayfarers, Yare & Bure One Designs (YBODs) and Yeomans, the first boat home, John Clementson's Wayfarer "Fiasco" returning to Horning just after 7.20pm, finishing third overall on handicap, winning the Bosun's Call B Trophy (for dinghy over 12% handicap), the Night Light Trophy for leading Wayfarer and the Charles Hickling Memorial Trophy for average age over 55 years.

First overall was now seven-times winner Chris Bunn sailing YBOD Fox taking the Three Rivers Trophy for overall winner, the New Three Rivers Trophy, the Peter Cumming Tankard (for non-HSC member), Puffin Trophy for first Halfdecker on handicap and the Howes Salver for Leading YBOD, equalling Stuart Rix's seven wins as the most times won by an individual. James Dugdale's YBOD Ghost was second, winning the Yachtmaster Insurance Trophy for second overall. Fourth was Roger Hannant's Yeoman Firefly, winning the Trudi Memorial Trophy for first HSC member and also the Ivybank Jug for leading Yeoman, with Jack Barnham's YBOD Peacock fifth overall, winning the BeWILDerwood Trophy for leading helm under 25 years.

Feeling more like Autumn, the fleet left Horning across sixteen starts in a brisk and cool northerly breeze, under the watchful eye of Race Organiser Kevin Saunders, Race Officer Ian Bray, and one of the original Race founders, David Hastings, who was able to join HSC's Club Commodore Peter Coles for much of the day's action. Recalling his experiences of that very first race, David said: "I remember at the time we hadn't thought much about whether there would be any moonlight, and as we flew across Hickling Broad in pitch darkness my crew was shouting out each time he spotted a channel marker post!" and he emphasised how delighted he was that this legacy was continuing today.

Capsizes, drama at the bridges and abandoned boats on Hickling Broad were all part of the adventure, as 105 starters attempted to make their way round 50 miles of the Norfolk Broads, in less than favourable conditions. Starting in the wind shadow of the Clubhouse, it was deceptively calm throughout the start sequence, with relatively few incidents, save for a Punt capsizing seconds before their start (thankfully recovered in time), and a minimal number of boats over the line. However, as soon as the boats turned onto the run through the Street in Horning, the gusty winds picked up, and several took water on board at this early stage. Whilst some opted to start heavily reefed, others reefed as the race went on, sails getting smaller and smaller throughout the day, before shaking them out as the breeze finally eased in the evening and the sun made a very welcome appearance.

The gusty winds made it very difficult to shoot the bridges; however, several sailors, including the younger generation of sailors in the YBODs, provided an absolute masterclass in precision timing and skill - namely James Dugdale in Ghost (who would eventually finish second), and Jack Barnham in Peacock (finishing fifth overall) much to the delight of the large crowds, who had not been deterred by the poor weather. The drama continued at both bridges - where Potter Heigham saw capsizes and boats getting stuck under the bridge, some craft having to pick up numerous additional crew to allow them to get under the bridge (enabled by a last minute change in the Sailing Instructions). At Acle bridge, several boats were forced to retire due to gear failure, and others made it through the bridge backwards!

Before the race, the YBODs had been one of the fleets to watch, with a battle of youth versus experience seeing extremely competitive sailing. After just over eight and a half hours sailing, a fraction over two minutes on corrected time separated first-placed Chris Bunn sailing YBOD Fox, and second-placed James Dugdale in Ghost - both having taken completely opposite routes - the former sailing both legs (Ludham and South Walsham), then to Acle and the Lower Bure buoy first, and the latter heading straight to Hickling Broad and completing the legs on the return. With one route usually favoured over another, widely thought to be Acle first this year, the gamble by James Dugdale very nearly paid off, but in the end it was Chris Bunn who would go on to be the ultimate winner. The vast majority (80% of the fleet) opted to do at least one of the legs first (South Walsham), in case the breeze dropped away through the trees later on.

It proved not to be a day for the lighter dinghies - with the Norfolk Punts and Thames A Raters (who have won some 14 times in the last 25 years) struggling in the strong winds, leading to nine out of twelve retiring during the race, most not making it back from Hickling Broad, which almost became the subject of legend itself - particularly the passage through Heigham Sound, which was described as "carnage" by numerous competitors - with stories of boats capsized or sunk, combined with white horses on the water, and waves like the sea!

Despite the daytime's lively conditions, once the tide turned late at night, it was much more difficult for competitors to make progress against the strong tide, with few finishers after midnight until daybreak. Frustratingly, Andrew Bond sailing River Cruiser Elfin was just timed out after persevering all night with the finish line within touching distance. The last boat to finish was David Smith sailing hire cruiser Wood Rose, making it back just before the 24-hour cut-off, winning the Lysander Trophy.

Completing the top ten finishers were Chris Bolton sailing Yeoman Folly Too in 6th place, Nick Heath sailing Broads One Design Dipper in 7th, Will Pank sailing River Cruiser Skylark 8th (winning the Melody Trophy for River Cruisers on Handicap), Clive Richardson in River Cruiser Ladybird 9th and Grace Pank 10th in YBOD Fritillary - a great achievement, as this was her first time taking part -winning the Navigators Trophy for first Three Rivers Race and also the Wildgoose Cup for the leading female helm.

With several sailors having reported never having sailed in anything like it in all their years of sailing on the Broads, incredibly 60 of the fleet finished - all those making it back had a vast sense of achievement, having "survived" what was one of the toughest races in recent history. Despite the bruises, batterings and exhaustion, the conversation around breakfast was almost the same for all - "same time next year?!"

The full results can be found here and the Trophy list here (both PDF format).

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