The Three Rivers Race is one of the oldest remaining on the Broads sailing calendar. Running every year since 1961, usually on the first weekend after the Whitsun Bank Holiday, it is also one of the largest inland yachting races in Europe, encompassing three rivers and two lakes or broads in rural Norfolk. Originally, the plan was to have boats crossing the estuary at Breydon Water with the three rivers being the Bure, Yare and Waveney. However, from a safety and tide aspect this proved impractical so the northern Broadland rivers of the Bure, Thurne and Ant were used instead, and remain the Three Rivers of the Race to this day.
The current challenge sees helms negotiate a course in the order of 45-50 miles, depending on conditions, rounding four buoys located at Ludham Bridge on the Ant, on South Walsham Broad or Fleet Dyke, on Hickling Broad at the top end of the River Thurne and downstream on the River Bure somewhere between Stokesby and Six Mile House heading towards Great Yarmouth, starting and finishing at Horning Sailing Club on the upper Bure. The time limit for this is 24 hours from each boat's start time. There are also 4 mast lowerings required on the course to negotiate the pair of bridges at Potter Heigham and also the bridge at Acle both ways. Despite all of these obstacles and sometimes complex rigs, the fastest boats such as Norfolk Punts and visiting Thames A Raters can complete the race in as little as 7 hours given favourable conditions. For those boats which cannot get back in time for a swift pint in the Swan, a cooked breakfast is provided at the finish in the clubhouse to revive weary sailors.
All of the boats are tracked at Horning Sailing Club for safety purposes. A team of 10 fixed motor cruiser guardships plus a range of other safety vessels keep an eye out for any problems and report back to base via radio. The efficiency of this system was underlined in 2001 when, for the only time so far in the race's history, strong winds caused abandonment of the race. Having issued the command from base at 6pm, all crews and the vast majority of boats were either at their home moorings or back at Horning Sailing Club by 11pm, despite being up to 15 miles away by river, thanks to the safety network. Progress around the course is tracked using computer software which allows the Race Controller to see in an instant on which stretch of water each competitor was last reported by a guardship.
The start of the race is the time for spectators to view the fleet in one concentrated mass, waiting to be started in groups of around 10 boats upstream of the start line at Horning Sailing Club. The first start is usually at 11am and it takes over an hour to get the whole fleet started. Once the fleet has reached Thurne Mouth, yachts can usually be seen heading off in both directions, and this decision is probably the most critical one of the whole race, dependant as it is on wind, tide and boat performance. The Three Rivers Race really is a test of seamanship over a long period and covering a wide variety of areas from close-quarters boat handling at the start to light airs sailing overnight and control at the bridge zones. Crews have travelled to Horning from all over the World to take part in a variety of craft, including the impressive Thames A Raters, Norfolk Punts, Half-Deckers, Yeomans, Yare and Bure ODs (White Boats), Reedlings, Rebels, Wayfarers, Enterprises and other dinghies, traditional Broads River Cruisers and Production Cruisers. No single-handed craft are allowed.
For more information about the Three Rivers Race, please visit www.3rr.uk