Veterans edge out rivals in Three Rivers Race

The Three Rivers Race. Boats lowering their masts to paddle and punt under the old bridge at Potter Heigham. June 2013 Picture: James Bass

Seasoned veterans John Parker and James Savage completed a hat-trick on Saturday after winning their third Navigators and General Three Rivers Race.

After victories in 2005 and 2010 they beat fellow Norfolk Punt sailors Richard Whitefoot and Chris Tovell by just 20 seconds after eight hours sailing, and, in so doing, collected a record seven trophies.

The two boats fought a relentless battle, Whitefoot faster but Parker superior on the bridges, exemplified at Potter, when Parker and Savage ruthlessly overhauled them on the approach. Indeed, the race was won and lost on the bridges.

Parker and Whitefoot were both handicapped on plus 6pc of time taken, as were the next two finishers, the two X1 dinghies sailed by Chris Winnington-Ingram and Martin Dixon, who just beat James Dugdale and Flip Foulds.

After a further two punts crossed the line within nine hours of starting it soon became certain that they would take the leading six places overall.


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As with the punts, the battle of the two X1s underlined the importance of good bridge work where Dugdale and Foulds excelled, shooting Potter Bridge in exemplary style, but, in their case, it was not quite enough, as the heavier combination headed by Winnington-Ingram gained on boat speed what they lost on the bridges.

The 11am start, in a Force 3-4 northerly, dictated that the fastest boats, would enjoy a massive advantage if the wind fell off around sunset, and indeed this happened. Suffice to say that the seventh boat to finish was Raisena, five hours and more later, Raisena's entry was a focal point of interest. With her towering rig, which former owner Martin Broom always deemed unsuitable, interest in her progress was acute.

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Chris Bunn, Nikki Tansley and team arrived to the strains of 'Mission Impossible', but they had clearly done their homework, and their bridge transits were exemplary. What undid them was the problem of tacking Raisena up the Ant; a river as broad as Raisena is long, and, later, finding the shallows in the vicinity of the Hickling mark. Chris and team did not give up, and, after both Zingara and Whisper had retired in the small hours although a good hour ahead, Raisena got her reward with the Mora Cup for the fastest Cruiser, although the Melody Trophy for the fastest cruiser on handicap went to Adrian Lincoln's superbly sailed Pixie.

The race was sailed for the most part in a chilly northerly force 3-4, with the majority opting to tackle Acle first, most, but not all, calling at one or both of the side legs, until the clouds dispersed, the sun emerged, and the wind dropped around 6.00pm, by which time the first six were well on the way home, and the remaining 80 odd down for an increasingly long, chill night.

Those who went to Hickling first got the worst of the tide as they struggled in the Lower Bure as the evening came on.

Potter Bridge provided the focus of interest, in addition to the first four. There were first class approaches and transit by the Cruisers Whisper (Chris Pank), Zingara (Richie Dugdale), both of whom subsequently retired, and YBODs Painted Jezebel (David Means) and Hawk (Henry Harston).

Means deservedly collected three awards, plus a fourth for his brother Simon as first HSC Crew. Harston, six minutes adrift, won the Navigators and General award for the highest placed first timer.

They finished eighth and ninth, behind Kevin Edwards and Mike Smethurst in the only Norfolk Dinghy, who finished around 7.30 am, but on handicap their timing came down to 15hrs 20 minutes, almost six hours short of the sixth boat, but enough to earn him the Bosun's Call.

Other winners included Kim West, Jim Windley, Paul Clarke, James Dugdale, James Galloway and, from the Hire Cruisers, J Edwards.

Sadly, there were some unusual absentees. The Thames A Ratters, so long dominant, were absent disporting themselves in France, while Ian Tims, down to sail an X1, was nursing an injured back. But 90 of the 95 entrants did get away, and 64 finished, the last just inside the 24 hour cut-off.

George Whitefoot and team, organising their first Three Rivers, must have been well pleased if totally exhausted, and Eric Smith, who instigated the race back in 1961 and whose Memorial service was held last Friday, would have been equally pleased.

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