More than 50 classic Broads yachts battled to fill their sails with summer breezes during a competition which evoked the heyday of big-prize racing along the River Yare.

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The Yare Navigation Race is open to river cruiser class boats, many of which were custom-built on the Broads for racing along this stretch of water between Norwich and Yarmouth.

The race, now in its 37th year, is not just a test of speed, but also of a skipper’s ability to judge the vagaries of the wind and tides to gain the best possible advantage for their craft.

Competitors could choose their start times from 6.30am onwards, but many of those who set off early on Saturday to make best use of the tide fell foul of a lack of wind, while those leaving later in the day caught enough breeze to power them towards the finishing line.

Because of the difficult conditions the race, which normally runs from Surlingham, east of Norwich, to Breydon Water near Yarmouth, was shortened by officials, so the yachts this year turned for home before reaching Reedham swing bridge.

Geoff Pinder, the Officer of the Day who oversaw the start and finish timings at Coldham Hall Sailing Club in Surlingham, said: “Only twice before have we had to shorten the course before Reedham, but the wind was such that boats were struggling to even get to the swing bridge.

“Most of these guys were out there for five hours waiting for the wind. To start with, we had a howling gale of zero knots, but what will make their day is the wind has picked up to give them this breeze at the end.”

Boats of different sizes compete in four classes, but a handicap system is employed to crown an overall winner. The fastest finishers took about four-and-a-half hours, with the slowest taking almost twice as long to complete the course.

The overall trophy was won by Meggie, one of the newer boats in the race, helmed by Stu Rix.

One of the most famous yachts in the race was Maidie, built in 1904 and once owned by travel company tycoon Thomas Cook.

She is one of the last surviving fully intact Edwardian Broads racers with an enviable pedigree on the Yare, and is now skippered by Norfolk property developer Mike Barnes.

He said: “She was built here to race specifically here at the end of the last century. Most boats were built on the northern rivers but the principal racing was on the Yare, and the Yare Sailing Club was the biggest in the country during the Victorian era.

“Racing here was really a local industry and these boats were racing for big prize money. A successful boat could win back its build costs in a year. Now we race for silverware.”

Maidie completed this year’s Yare Navigation Race in 3 hours 56 minutes.

“We reckoned our optimum start time would be 10.15am but we started at 11.15 when there was a breath of wind rising which should have been enough to blow us down to the mark,” said Mr Barnes. “That’s the gamble you take. The boats that will have won will have got the tide dead wrong, but will have sailed with the wind all the time.”

Although Mr Barnes, from Reedham, was on home ground for the race, he said some participants had travelled from as far afield as London and Hull.

“Some will take it more seriously than others, but it really is a race for everyone,” he said. “It is the longest passage race for cruisers in Europe.”

Mr Barnes said he spent £35,000 restoring Maidie in 1986 – the same year in which he bought a semi-detached cottage for £32,000. “You could say she cost more than a house, but it was still the best year I ever had,” he said.

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