Sailing at the Heart of the Norfolk Broads

Navigators Three Rivers Race

The Race Today

The Navigators 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 Navigators 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.

Since the 1990s, the race has been sponsored by yachting insurance company Navigators and General who help to fund the running costs of the race.

To obtain an entry pack for the Navigators Three Rivers Race, please email 3rr@horningsc.co.uk. Entry is by invitation only on receipt of completed entry forms but we can't invite you unless we know you would like to sail the race! All entrants from the last 2 years will be on the list to receive an entry pack but please advise us of any changes of address for correspondence. Places are usually limited to around 140 boats so get your entry in as early as possible! And if you want to have a free day out in early June, come to Horning for the start or any point around the course to observe Broads sailing at its very best.

The Early Races

Back in the 1950/60s, for a number of years Horning had raced against, and with, the Great Yarmouth & Gorleston Sailing Club. In 1961 David Hastings - then Secretary of Horning Sailing Club, Yarmouth & Gorleston Commodore and fellow members Peter Mallender, Dickie Keogh and Eric Smith proposed a new sailing challenge for Club members. The concept was to sail the three major rivers of the Broads: the Bure, the Thurne and the Waveney. However, concern was expressed regarding large numbers of small craft negotiating the bridges at Vauxhall and Breydon Water in the early hours of the morning and continuing out to sea to the head of the Waveney, possibly in adverse weather and tidal conditions, thus it was decided that the boats should turn before Great Yarmouth, thereby losing the Waveney. Instead the boats would turn at a moveable mark above Stokesby and below Six Mile House on the Bure, the position of the buoy being decided by the race officer on the day, depending on conditions. To save this becoming a two rivers race, and to add further navigation and distance, it was agreed that the boats would turn before Ludham Bridge on the Ant. Thus, Horning Sailing Club's Three Rivers Race (Bure, Thurne and Ant) run over a distance of approximately 50 miles, came into being.

The very first Three Rivers Race took place on Saturday 16th/Sunday 17th June 1961. 42 boats started in a brisk breeze, but overnight conditions turned to gale-force winds. First home at 11.30 p.m. on that moonless night was a Yare and Bure One Design 'Brimstone' helmed by Hugh Tusting, who had to hail a sleeping race officer for a finishing bell! David Hastings was awarded the Bosun's Call B Trophy in his dinghy 'Flying Enterprise'. In those days there was no radio contact and only 3 safety boats. Competitors had to jump out their boats and run along muddy banks to mark their passing of a turning point. Nowadays safety is very much at the forefront of the organisers' minds, but the Race is every bit as exhausting and exhilarating for the participants and as thrilling for the hundreds of spectators.

Navigators and General

Navigators and General have been proud sponsors of the 3 Rivers race for 21 years. As pleasure craft insurers we share your passion for the water and have been covering boats on the broads since the 1940's.

Our experience, passion and knowledge of the broads makes Navigators & General one of the best known and most respected pleasure craft insurers for broads boat owners.

So if you haven't tried us before please try us at renewal. We wish all competitors an enjoyable and claims free race!

The 2017 Race

The 2017 race will be held on the weekend of 3rd / 4th June

Entry is by invitation only on receipt of completed entry forms.