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Richard Whitefoot's Comet takes victory during exciting Three Rivers Race

PUBLISHED: 12:00 06 June 2019

Action from the Three Rivers Race. Picture: Neil Foster Photograph

Action from the Three Rivers Race. Picture: Neil Foster Photograph

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It was all about the tides for the 59th Yachtmaster Insurance Three Rivers Race and, after a difficult start, there were glorious sailing conditions throughout the day.

Action from the Three Rivers Race. Picture: Neil Foster PhotographAction from the Three Rivers Race. Picture: Neil Foster Photograph

The 2019 race saw the starting order having been changed, with some of the slowest craft, including hire cruisers and production cruisers, starting from the Clubhouse first, the faster craft later.

However, light winds and fighting against the tide on the start line meant that before the fleet had made it beyond the Swan Inn just a few metres from the Clubhouse, a log jam ensued, meaning that the Three Rivers Race Committee's contingency plan swung into action, with a significant postponement to enable this to clear before the remaining fleets could get away.

Some 55 minutes later the start sequence resumed, and the mixed fleet of 102 Cruisers, Keelboats and Dinghies made their way down the River Bure to take part in the 24-hour, 50-mile endurance race, which, in true Three Rivers style, would be a real test of determination.

The first real challenge came at Ludham, with two thirds of the entire fleet opting to take this leg first, winding their way down the narrow River Ant. It proved to be extremely crowded, with several changing their mind and deciding to tackle it later, whilst for others it would sadly be the end of their race, including last year's winner Thames A Rater Lady Jane who suffered a torn mainsail.

Action from the Three Rivers Race. Picture: Neil Foster PhotographAction from the Three Rivers Race. Picture: Neil Foster Photograph

Prior to the morning's postponement, the favoured route for many had been to sail to Hickling Broad first, and then aim to make it to the Lower Bure buoy before the tide turned. However, starting almost an hour later than planned meant that some hastily revisited their plans, whilst others tried their luck to make it on time.

With approximately one-third of the fleet still opting to sail to Potter first, it was a race not only against other competitors but also against the tide to make it back through Acle. This was a gamble that paid off for only the very fastest craft, with the majority of Norfolk Punts and Thames A Raters opting to take this route. The remaining two thirds of competitors faced a hard beat all the way down to Acle Bridge and to the furthest point possible on the race, the Stracey Arms Windpump, forcing several retirements.

There was a fair share of excitement at the bridges, with a combination of mast drops timed to perfection contrasted against the usual near misses, whilst capsizes and crews overboard added to the drama, for the enthusiastic, cheering crowds.

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Those that did not make it to the Lower Bure buoy with the tide paid dearly, as the combination of tree-lined bank and a strong adverse tide made getting around that part of the course nigh-on impossible, despite the turning mark being within 100 yards.

The sight of some 20 or so boats lining the banks patiently waiting for the tide to turn was what greeted the competitors as one by one, they joined the frustratingly long wait.

Every now and again one would try to make it round, only to be forced back to the bank to hold on to their position. Another struggle ensued at Stokesby Ferry, where a number of competitors were similarly stranded.

Faced with waiting for the tide to turn to make it round the buoy, only to have to fight the tide all the way back to Horning on the return, several opted to retire. Ultimately, the race saw 42 retirements.

Action from the Three Rivers Race. Picture: Neil Foster PhotographAction from the Three Rivers Race. Picture: Neil Foster Photograph

First boat home was Thames A Rater Osprey helmed by Paul Browning at shortly after 8pm, after a little over seven hours on the water.

Some 15 minutes later came the second Rater, Ulva, helmed by Ben Palmer. Third home was Richard Whitefoot's Norfolk Punt Comet, who would go on to be the overall winner with a corrected time of just under nine hours, Osprey and Ulva second and third overall respectively.

All three of these craft had made it to Hickling before Acle, as had fourth-placed Punt Redwing helmed by Rupert Redington. Fifth was John Clementson's Wayfarer Compleat Fiasco (who had chosen Acle first), followed by first River Cruiser Zingara helmed by James Dugdale (who had sailed to Potter first).

This was followed by a Wayfarer (Black Magic) helmed by Georgina Povall, a member of the British Sailing Team in the Laser Radial Class, Roger Hannant's Yeoman (Firefly), and a River Cruiser helmed by Daniel Reilly (Cygnet), all of whom had completed the Acle leg first.

Completing the top 10 was Thames A Rater Atlantis helmed by Julian Smith, who, in line with the theme of the faster craft, had sailed to Potter first.

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