Sails unfurled for river race

PUBLISHED: 09:00 05 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:57 22 October 2010


The mood at the start of the Three Rivers Race was similar to that of a marathon, with nerves and adrenaline shielded by high spirits and laughter.

The mood at the start was similar to that of a marathon, with nerves and adrenaline shielded by high spirits and laughter.

And Pam Facey, who has helped to control the Norfolk Broads' Three Rivers Race with her husband Colin since 1990, confirmed that the ragged emotions and sheer exhaustion of crews at the end - 56 miles later - could also be compared to the ugly sights London Marathon spectators see every year along the Embankment.

In many respects the event, run by Horning Sailing Club, is a nautical marathon with three rivers to navigate - the Bure, Ant and Thurne - and tiring tactical demands such as lowering the mast under bridges and battling against the tide.

“The smell of bacon cooking at Horning Sailing Club is a big encouragement as boats come into the finish, but the first thought on crossing the line is invariably 'never again',” she said.

Only later, as yachtsmen and women swapped their stories of personal mishaps and triumphs over a full English breakfast did feelings of elation take over.

Although Mrs Facey is quick to admit that once was enough for her as a competitor, many yachting enthusiasts have made the endurance test a permanent fixture on their calendar.

“We have people coming from all over the country, bringing their boats on trailers, and in the past competitors have come from as far afield as the US and Germany,” she said.

Locally, Hugh Tusting, vice-commodore of Horning Sailing Club, has completed 41 out of the 46 races.

The popularity of the event is just as great for spectators with parked cars lining roads into the village.

Every vantage spot is taken with families and dogs lining the banks, mingling with Horning's resident ducks and their broods of young.

This year, guests of race sponsors Navigators and General insurance company even got to see the race on board the paddle steamer Southern Comfort.

Saturday's noon start for the first class of Wayfarer and Enterprise dinghies took place in perfect June weather with warm sunshine and a light breeze.

But although the forecast was set fair for the weekend, Mrs Facey said none of the competitors in Europe's longest inland waterway race would be taking anything for granted.

“It might be shorts and T-shirts weather at the moment, but a lot can change over the course of 50 miles. It can start like this and end up wet and miserable,” she said.

In fact, Mrs Facey's cautious prediction was spot on this year with the wind dying at around 8pm, leaving many boats marooned at such places as the former Stracey Arms near Acle, unable to make progress against the tide.

A handful of boats were swift enough to get home before the wind dropped, with a Norfolk punt crewed by Norfolk sailors Chris Bunn and Ian Timms the first finishers at 8.10pm.

With 11 classes taking part - ranging in size from dinghies to luxury Broads cruisers - there are really many races within the race.

And Mrs Facey said the aims of the 95 crews varied widely, from wanting to win to just wanting to finish.

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