Ben Palmer’s team show how it’s done in Three Rivers victory
- Credit: Archant
The three weather conditions every sailor dreads: No wind, heavy rain and thunderstorms.
That is exactly what was predicted prior for the 58th Three Rivers Race last weekend, hosted by Horning Sailing Club and sponsored by Yachtmaster Insurance for the first time.
Just a few days before, the forecast had changed from almost perfect to anything but ideal. With barely a breath of wind during the pre-race briefing, where competitors were told they would be sailing a full course by Race officer Ian Bray, there was relief as a gentle breeze picked up during the starting procedure for the 13 separate starts.
Despite the unfavourable forecast, this put off few competitors and some eighty boats started in earnest ready for the 50+ miles ahead.
As the fleet made their way down Horning street, lack of wind due to the trees quickly resulted in a bottleneck, with most of the starters converging just past Southgates Boatyard as the rain started to fall, and fighting the tide, some boats struggled to make forward progress, with the first retirement coming just a little over an hour after the start.
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As a fraction more wind blew, the log-jam cleared, although it took several hours for all the craft to make it out of Horning.
The unfavourable tides and fickle winds meant that neither route gained a great advantage, and the fleet was relatively split in choices.
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First boat to Potter Bridge was Thames A Rater Lady Jane skippered by Ben Palmer, crewed by previous winner Nick Fribbens and Sam Eversfield, a short distance ahead of fellow Rater Strait Dealer skippered by Dicken MacLean, crewed by Tim Andrews and Cleo Jongedijle, whilst first boat to Acle was Norfolk Punt Comet helmed by Richard Whitefoot, crewed by David Milledge.
A steady trickle of boats then followed at each, some having completed the Ludham and South Walsham legs – others not.
As the county suffered a huge amount of rainfall, with numerous reports of flash flooding, it was a true test of endurance for those braving the conditions.
The bridges provided their usual fair share of entertainment for spectators with spectacular shootings and near misses, but by early evening the mist had begun to roll in reducing visibility to just a few metres.
Along with a dying breeze, this meant a long night ahead for most. With those who had gone to Potter first, making it to Acle and then Stokesby before the tide turned became nigh-on impossible apart from the very fastest craft, and by midnight there had been over 40 retirements (approximately half the fleet).
First boat home was the leading A-Rater to Potter, Lady Jane, shortly after 11pm after 12 hours on the water.
Ben Palmer's team would also go on to win the race overall, taking the Three Rivers Race & New Three Rivers Trophy, Bosun's Call A, Peter Cumming Tankard and the Stanley Facey Memorial Trophy for fastest passage.
Second home and second overall was another Rater Strait Dealer skippered by Dicken Maclean, winning the Yachtmaster Insurance Trophy. Third was Norfolk Punt Comet helmed by Richard Whitefoot.
Interestingly the first two of the top three finishers opted to take the same route – completing both the legs before heading to Potter then Acle, whilst third-placed Comet did this in reverse – Acle, Potter then the legs.
Fourth was Richie Dugdale's River Cruiser Zingara, who won the Melody Trophy and Mora Cruiser Trophy for River Cruisers, together with the Trudi Memorial Trophy for first Horning Sailing Club member.
Also in the top 10 results were two Punts, three Cruisers including River Cruiser Ladybird coming in seventh, being the only finisher with a positive handicap - and Slipstream 'Spindrift' having been recently renovated.
As the conditions worsened overnight and the tide turned, retirements became the more popular choice and finishers less frequent – which ultimately led to just 15 boats out of 80 completing the course.
The final boat to retire was Stuart Bailey's Reedling Jaws after becoming stranded at Horning Vicarage just a mile or so from the finish at 8am after two hours of no progress. Despite not finishing, he was the only halfdecker to complete all the legs.
All in all it was an extremely unusual race, with the weather adding to the challenge, but the determination and perseverance of competitors showed the spirit of the race – a true test of endurance and seamanship – fingers crossed for sunshine and a good breeze in 2019!