50 years on, Three Rivers keeps pulling the crowds

Alan MallettThe 50th Navigators and General Three Rivers Race, organised by Horning SC, was sailed in daytime conditions which fully matched the celebratory nature of the event, and night-time winds which equally matched the traditions long enjoyed by competitors.Alan Mallett

The 50th Navigators and General Three Rivers Race, organised by Horning SC, was sailed in daytime conditions which fully matched the celebratory nature of the event, and night-time winds which equally matched the traditions long enjoyed by competitors.

Veterans John Parker and James Savage crossed the line fourth in their Punt, behind three of the Raters, to take the overall result and five trophies on handicap by less than two minutes from the Martin Hunter team, who themselves made the fastest passage of the race in 8hrs 11 minutes, a mere 9 seconds faster than the Paul Browning team.

Stu Rix took the Bosun's Call 'B' ahead of the Tims brothers and Kevin Edwards in Norfolks, these three finishing 10th, 22nd and 27th respectively.

The weekend was as much about the past as the present, and festivities started on Friday with a BBQ attended by many of the 1961 starters.

Some have competed regularly for many years. Hugh Tusting, immortalized by Tony Hall's cartoon last Saturday, has missed only two or three races, and he competed, in the boat in which he won - although a broken gaff finished his race.

Peter Bainbridge, who crewed his father Dickie to second place, was also competing again, now in a Great Yarmouth One Design.

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Others took part in a Veterans Race over part of the course, including John and Roger Means, Tony Shingler and Brian Cumming, John Pacy, Alex Humphris, the first race officer, who was caught napping by the early finish, and the founder David Hastings, now a sprightly septuagenarian, who fired the gun for the first of the 19 starts for the 170 entrants.

Other 1960s competitors included Peter George, who won the Veteran Race, Malcolm Bishop, with over 40 races under his belt, and Danny Alsop, dinghy winner in the 1964 race with a record time were in the main race. Robert Self, five times winner in the early days, gave the commentary at the start with Ian Masters, while yours truly, having done the first 15 races, and three more in the 1980s, is now the scribe.

A host of celebratory balloons greeted the gun as Matt Ellis led the Rebel fleet on the beat downriver in unbroken sunshine and a Force 2 or thereabouts.

Peter Bainbridge matched him for quality a couple of starts later. Other starts were perhaps a little different, one or two Cruisers finding the bottom, and a bit of a log jam built up on the 15th start when the wind briefly dropped. But, by and large, it all went very smoothly.

As the fleets moved downriver and various options were taken interesting duels were observed, notably that between the tan sailed cruisers Beth (Glyn Howarth) and Pippa (Geoff Angell) off St Benets and up to South Walsham.

Crowds and congestion at Horning for the start were matched by those at Potter Heigham Bridge, where the usual thrills and occasional spills were expected, and delivered.

Chris Bunn and Niki Tansley spectacularly shot the bridge and then hoisted to sail to the road bridge in their YBOD, a feat emulated by Ian and Michael Tims in their Norfolk.

John Means would have been very proud of his son for his professional approach in the family Rebel, matched by Paul Wren in his Wayfarer, Geoff Tibbenham in a Punt, and Robert and Holly Hancock in their Reedling. The Browning team in their Thames Rater likewise coped admirably.

There were several others who could have done better. P Goodman's Yeoman and M Tassie's Wayfarer linked masts briefly, while D Church's Cruiser scattered spectators as it crashed into the quay by the bridge under full sail. Shortly afterwards they were observed paddling a fair distance downstream before turning to take the bridge.

Eight hours after the start the early 'speed merchants' were reported upstream of Ant Mouth. Further afield, the heat had abated, and the wind likewise, Acle being very calm by then, and a long night beckoned, with the exquisitely agonising prospect of a long, windless, misty, dank, chilling drift past St Benets and homeward beckoning for the slower boats.

The first 16 to cross the line escaped that; the remaining 121 had to endure it to at least some extent, notably R Garner in the Flying Dutchman, who had the solace of receiving the Lysander Trophy for the last boat to finish, 21 hours 11 minutes and 21 seconds after starting. Thirty-three never made it, some, including Hugh Tusting and Henry Bradshaw after suffering gear failure. Others, including 27 Cruisers, were grounded in Heigham Sound for various periods, the water being unusually low. One who got away was Richie Dugdale by dint of heeling Zingara to an almost impossible degree to free her. His 11th place earned him the Melody Trophy. The Barker brothers, with Tom in charge won the Yeomans and the U25s, past winner Stu Rix the Wayfarers.

There was little consistency in the courses followed, Parker and Hunter opting to do the side legs, Acle and Hickling while Browning did S Walsham, Hickling, Acle and Ludham in only nine seconds less.

This year marks the end of an era, with Colin and Pam Facey standing down after 21 years at the helm. They have had to face the challenge of the introduction of high performance craft, increasing entries, and a great deal of work.

When, in October 1959, a few Enterprise sailors nattered on, over a pint or two, about midnight racing on Black Horse Broad, and a young and enthusiastic secretary named David Hastings conceived, with Peter Mallender and Eric Smith, the idea of a race involving rather more than 'round the cans' and 19 of us set out in a stiff wind, we never imagined that in our dotage we would see this event as a major national competition, almost unique in its complexity, drawing competitors from all over the country.

But that is what it has become - and long may it last.


Navigator and General Three Rivers Race (170): 1 (and Three Rivers Trophy A, Three Rivers Clegg Trophy, Bosun's Call 'A', Peter Cumming Tankard for first visitor) Wild Goose (J Parker); 2 (and Stanley Facey Memorial Salver for fastest passage and Elias Trophy, first finisher) Spindrift (M Hunter); 3 Osprey (P Browning).

Veterans (6): 1 Star (P George), 2 Silver Cloud (A Shingler, B & L Cumming), 3 Rebel Jade (K Davies, R Page, A Barnes).

Other Trophies. Bosun's Call B for Dinghies 12pc and over: 1 JP Dinghies (S Rix), 2 Cockle (I Tims), 3 Minnie (K Edwards) 3 Mary Jane (J Fowler).

Puffin Trophy (first half decker): Helen (P Bainbridge).

Melody Trophy (first cruiser on handicap) and Mora Trophy (fastest cruiser): Zingara (R Dugdale).

Trudi Memorial Trophy (first HSC member): Ian Bray, crewing Snowgoose.

Nightlight Trophy (first Wayfarer): JP Dinghies (S Rix).

Chippa Trophy (Fastets Enterprise): Biffa (C Morgan).

Howes Trophy (fastest YBOD): Fox (C Bunn).

Ivybank Jug (fastest Yeoman) and BeWILDerwood trophy (first helm U25): Brandy Bottle (T Barker).

Navigators & General Trophy (highest placed first timer): Shoveller (P Wilkins).

Jubilee Cup (fastest Rebel): Rebel Sailor (M Ellis).

Charles Hickling Memorial Trophy (first boat average crew age >55yrs): Wild Goose (J Parker).

Navigators and General Team Trophy: 1 Snowflake SC, 2 Hickling Broad SWC.

Green Ginger Cup (first production Cruiser): Gemima (D Hole).

Colin Haddow Trophy (first HSC member aboard Rebel or YBOD): N Tansley crewing Fox.

Lysander Cup (last boat to finish): Flying Dutchman (R Garner).