24 hours in a boat – You must be …

The Three Rivers Race organised by Horning Sailing Club is one of the major events in the Broads sailing calendar. Competitors in all manner of boats sail from Horning and are expected to round marks on the Bure beyond Acle, the Thurne – well beyond Potter Heigham and the Ant – near to Ludham Bridge, before returning to the start at Horning. So much depends on the tide and so much depends of the strength of the wind.

Start of the race with sail no 102 – this years winner – already at the front

All sorts of boats take part from the massive Thames A Raters to the smallest Wayfarer Dinghies.

It is about speed, but it is also about how the skipper handles his or her boat and the decisions that are made about which order the marks are to be cleared, given the state of the tides.   

We do need wind – no wind – no motion!

This year it was decided to set some of the slower boats off first. There is no doubt that the first boat with a clear section of river in front of him or her has an advantage. So this year some of the slower sailing cruisers were allowed to go off at the beginning. Then sadly the slight the wind dropped and they all stopped. The boats created something of a log-jam only yards from the start line. However after about 40 minutes the wind got up and most boats managed to get away.

Final adjustments at the start. This Punt finished in 6th place

Later on there was another kerfuffle as faster boats caught up slower boats in a rather narrow piece of river just before Ludham Bridge.

Tense moment on the River Ant – not helped by a holiday motor cruiser

It is usually at the bridges that the spectators gather. Ludham has a number of fans who go there every year. Acle proves rather attractive to spectators, and it is very pleasant to be able to sit in a river-side café or in the pub garden and watch the competitors lowering their masts in order to negotiate the bridge. Some do it well – others get in a bit of a muddle, but there is always a safety boat on hand to prevent harm, because it is here that the tide flows the fastest.  

Acle Bridge

The most popular vantage point on the route though seems to be the bridge at Potter Heigham.

Potter Heigham – With care it will go through – note the supportive crowd

This is a seriously low bridge and very narrow, so a boat going in one direction has not only to negotiate the low arch but needs to look out for competitors who have already turned and are on their way back. The crowd, always helpful, shout encouragement and warnings to the crews. Slackers at the paddling are reprimanded by the onlookers and any skilful crew who shoot the bridge (lowering the sails and mast while on the move) receive loud cheers and applause.

It’s a jolly day out – and sometimes night out. Fast well organised boats like Richard Whitefoot’s Norfolk Punt “comet” this year’s winner, was round in under 9 hours – a fast, although not a big boat. Two Thames A Raters came second and third, but then to everyone’s delight came a Wayfarer called (inappropriately) “Compleat Fiasco” – terrific.

The wind, when it came was reasonable and even the last boat home completed the course in under 19 hours. Too long for me though in an open boat!