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63rd Yachtmaster Insurance Three Rivers Race Preview

by Holly Hancock 27 May 02:33 PDT 1-2 June 2024
Three Rivers Race © Holly Hancock

Any form of 24-hour endurance race is a challenge, but imagine doing this in a boat, and having to lower and raise your mast no less than four times to make way under the narrow bridges of the Broads, including medieval Potter Heigham Bridge, whilst covering 50 miles through daylight and darkness on the winding waterways of the Norfolk Broads.

Next Saturday, hundreds of sailors from across the UK and further afield will make their way to Horning Sailing Club, in a small pretty Broadland village, for the start of the internationally renowned Three Rivers Race. Once billed as Europe's toughest inland sailing race, it provides a unique challenge for the newcomer to the race and the seasoned sailor alike, with each and every one of the 118 entrants hoping to make it round the course - and the three rivers: the Bure, the Ant and the Thurne - in a test of seamanship.

The brainchild of David Hastings MBE, who came up with the idea in 1961, along with Peter Mallender, Dickie Keogh and Eric Smith, as a new challenge for Horning Sailing Club members, the race is now in its 63rd year and is still going strong, attracting a new generation of sailors participating for the first time. Back in 1961, that very first race saw some 42 boats begin in a brisk breeze, which turned overnight to gale force winds, made all the harder by it being a moonless night. Whilst competitors in the 2024 might be hoping for somewhat calmer conditions, the excitement and exhilaration of the Race still exists. Safety is at the forefront of the race committee's mind, planning taking the best part of a year, and nowadays guardships are situated throughout the course to keep an eye on activities. In 2014 the Race was judged by the Sport & Recreation Alliance to be the third toughest mass-participation event in the UK.

With sixteen starts spanning almost an hour and a half, the boats will leave Horning Sailing Club from 11am, making their way through the village out onto the more open waters of the Broads, the skippers tactically choosing their own route dependent upon the wind and tide conditions on the day. The course will include sailing (in any order) to Ludham Bridge on the River Ant, South Walsham Broad, down the Bure through Acle Bridge to Stokesby or beyond, and through Potter Heigham Bridge to Hickling on the River Thurne. The Bridges in particular are always popular with spectators, especially as some competitors choose to "shoot" the bridges - meaning that they leave lowering the mast to the very last second, some even sailing between the old and new bridges at Potter Heigham, much to the excitement of the crowd!

Each year the starting order rotates and first away this year will be the thirteen-strong fleet of Wayfarers, a small, popular 15'10" dinghy, followed by a variety of craft from traditional Broads boats to hire boats. The boats range from a Miracle dinghy at 12'8" length to Thames A Raters with their imposing rigs standing at over 45' tall! The entries also include over 50 river and production cruisers.

This year, amongst the fleets to watch are the elegant Yare & Bure One Designs; these traditional boats were designed for the Broads, boasting previous winners amongst their ranks, including six times winner Chris Bunn sailing Fox, and last year's winning crew (and 2022 second-placed sailor) James Dugdale sailing Ghost. Another closely contended fleet will be the Norfolk Punts, with twelve having entered, along with two Thames A Raters, both classes of boats having been previous winners. The fast cruisers will also be competitive, with 2021 winner Chris Pank helming Moonraker once more.

Almost every class competing has won the race at least once in its history, so it really is wide open. Whether competitors are racing for the first time, for charity, to win, or for a personal challenge, it truly is a unique Broads spectacle which needs to be seen to be believed! The action kicks off at 11am on Saturday 1st June from Horning Sailing Club. If you cannot make it to see the Race in person, you can view all the action via webcams on the Horning Sailing Club website and find out more about the race here

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