Comfortable triumph for Three Rivers winners

The 46th Navigators Three Rivers Race, organized by Horning Sailing Club under a strong team led by Colin Facey, could hardly have been sailed in better conditions - at any rate until both sun and wind set eight hours after the start.

The 46th Navigators Three Rivers Race, organized by Horning Sailing Club under a strong team led by Colin Facey, could hardly have been sailed in better conditions - at any rate until both sun and wind set eight hours after the start.

Shortly afterwards, Chris Bunn and Ian Tims became the first boat to finish with a margin of 46 minutes over Martin Hunter's Rater, increased to over two hours on handicap.

Their triumph was a reward for eight hours 35 minutes of sheer concentration and effort and it is fair to note that the winning margins were the only comfortable aspect of the day!

The race started at noon on Saturday in glorious sunshine with a Force 2-3 wind speeding the fleets through Horning at a cracking pace as they ran downstream.

Things looked good from the 11 starts, with Malcolm Bishop, veteran of 41 races, setting the pace with a sparkling start as the dinghies got away.

Other good starts came from Phillip Dring, in the first lot of cruisers, and Gordon Williams. If Matt Ellis had not tied his spinnaker in a figure of eight his start would have ranked alongside them.

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The wind built up and, at Thurne, was nearing the upper end of Force 3 shortly before 2pm, when the first of the fleet, Mike Reilly's White Boat, arrived after just under two hours sailing for the Lower Bure Mark at the Stracey Arms pub.

Tide timings made course selection particularly testing and a fair number of the early starters opted to go straight down the Bure while the faster boats, with one exception, opted to do the Ludham and South Walsham legs before going on to Acle Bridge.

Alone among them, Martin Hunter, like Bunn a previous winner, took his Thames Rater on to Hickling after the short legs. This was to prove the decisive point of the race.

Nevertheless, Hunter's progress was such that he was able to clear Acle Bridge homeward just before 6.30pm. Meanwhile, Bunn was powering up to Hickling and back, and it soon emerged that his was the better course as he crept back through the trees and Horning village in the fading wind to cross the finishing line first just before 8.45 pm, three quarters of an hour clear of Hunter.

Third across the line, and also on handicap, was another Punt, with John Parker and Jane Pye, more than three hours later. The key for all three was the concentration applied throughout, particularly at the four bridges.

As usual, the favourite spectator spot, after the start, was Potter Heigham bridge, where spectators were richly rewarded. There was applause for David Mossman as his YBOD shot the bridge to perfection. Reilly, too, made the most of his YBOD with another excellent transit, as did Geoff Tibbenham in his Punt, and Paul Stevens in his cruiser. Others provided the comedy.

Matt Ellis impressed as he went through in style, passing through the arches towards Hickling as R Smith's cruiser Emily passed in the opposite direction.

Chris Ball's delightful Barracuda lowered efficiently but drifted onto the lee shore and was lucky to get through unscathed as her prominent bowsprit did its' best to perforate the side of the bridge. Barracuda, with Mark Turner, Micaela Holman, and John Tibbenham aboard, had the most adventurous race of all the 37 finishers.

The oldest boat in the race (1898) began her problems with a grounding and tiller breakage in the Ant. The replacement tiller was broken off St Benet's and the bowsprit suffered damage going under the bridgeat Potter. If that wasn't enough there was a near miss with a moored cruiser on the return, necessitating repairs to the bowsprit with bits of the broken tiller. They finished three hours inside the limit, having refreshed on pizza and chips cooked on their paraffin stove!

Ken West's Rebel also looked the part after a little spot of bother, but he spoiled it by dropping his quant pole between the bridges and had to do a complete circle to retrieve it.

Meanwhile, P Goodman's crew, paddling their Yeoman like fury to return from Hickling, suddenly found themselves first stopped and then unceremoniously hauled back again as their rigging tangled with West's.

Others took the cautious approach, and it was remarkable to see how much time was lost, especially by three Wayfarers which moored up a vast distance off the bridge to lower and then took their time going about it.

Hickling provided the strongest winds, up to Force 4, and a couple of the cruisers ran aground there or in Heigham Sound. Malcolm Bishop, crewed by Leslie Witard, who competed in last year's Global Challenge, found conditions too strong for his liking and, sadly, retired.

Retirement, or over-running the 24 hour time limit, was to be the fate of 63 of the competitors, including both Enterprises and all the Wayfarers, leaving only P Corke's Merlin Rocket as the only traditional dinghy to finish - though sadly not qualifying for the Bosun's Call B trophy.

After the first three it was six hours before another punt, Geoff Tibbenham in command, finished, and almost another hour before the first YBOD, sailed by Mike and Dan Reilly crossed the line to collect three trophies, one minute ahead of Robert and James Buntin's Yeoman and Sally and Chris Dugdale's Reedling.

After a long, cold, windless night the fleet slowly returned throughout the morning. Phillip Dring's start and bridge drill paid dividends as he won the River Cruiser awards ahead of John Cox, whose consolation was the trophy for the first boat with a combined age of 55. Third cruiser and winner of the Trophy for the first Three Rivers Race helmed was Zephyr, helmed by Richie Dugdale, while the Means family retained the Rebel Trophy and A Goodchild won the Hire Cruiser award.