Norfolk Broads sailing spectacle takes place this weekend

Europe’s longest and most gruelling inland sailing race marks its 50th anniversary on Saturday June 5th.

The famous 24-hour Navigators and General Three Rivers Race run by Horning Sailing Club on the Broads has attracted a record 177 entries with many of the original competitors taking part.

A special veteran’s mini-Three Rivers Race is being held for the founders, some of whom are still sailing in their 80s.

But 73 year old Hugh Tusting, who won the first race in 1961, will be taking part in the same boat and with the same crew and sailing the whole course.

The event is a double milestone as this will be the last race to be organised by club member Colin Facey who is handing over the helm to his daughter, Sallie-Anne Sadler, after 20 years.

There will be world-wide internet coverage with web cams fitted in the club house and at mediaeval Potter Heigham bridge.

“As crews travel from all over the world it will be good if their friends and family back home can watch it,” said Colin who has taken part in the race himself three times. “I want to go out with a big entry as it’s going to be very special this year.”

The Three Rivers Race, sponsored by Navigators & General, was designed as an all-night race covering the rivers of the northern Broads – the Bure, Ant and Thurne – to test seamanship, navigation and endurance.

Since its first race in 1961 it has attracted thousands of boats of all classes, shapes and sizes from as far afield as Europe and Australia.

The variety in size and speed of the boats, including fast Thames ‘A’ Raters, Norfolk Punts, Rebels, Half-Deckers, Yare and Bure One Designs (“White Boats”) Yeomans and classic Broads River Cruisers, a few hired for the occasion, through to dinghies makes for an exciting spectator sport.

The race presents a challenge even to expert sailors, as participants battle treacherously low bridges and strong tides, and fight exhaustion from the distance sailed.

It’s standing room only as spectators vie for the best view of boats attempting to ‘shoot’ the three bridges at Potter Heigham and Acle.

A major task for the competitors is to use their tactical skills to decide in which order they will complete the 50 mile course, using tide and wind to maximum effect. There are four turning points – Ludham Bridge, South Walsham, Hickling Broad and a moveable buoy on the Lower Bure.

The boats compete on a handicap system which makes it possible for even the slowest boat to win. There are 24 trophies to fight for with a trophy for each class of boat and even for the one who finishes last.

An army of about 100 volunteers are involved in running the race, which for them means a 6am start on the Saturday and ends after the last competitor finishes on Sunday afternoon.

The race is monitored by 13 guard ships, each with their own rescue boat, which are stationed throughout the course. They radio competitors’ positions back to the clubhouse at Horning where they are recorded on a computer.

“We always know where every boat is at any given time,” said Colin. “If they are in trouble we can send a rescue boat out from a guard ship.”

Back at the clubhouse’s galley shifts of volunteers are busy cooking over 400 breakfasts throughout the night to greet weary and often wet and cold sailors as they arrive home. It stays open until an hour after the last competitor finishes.

This year the festivities kick off on Friday June 4th at 3pm with a barbecue. The race starts at 11am on Saturday at the sailing club, opposite The Swan public House, with boats being started at five minute intervals.

The best spectator viewing points for the Three Rivers Race are at the start at Horning from 11am, Potter Heigham bridge – the lowest and narrowest on the Broads, Acle Bridge and on the bank below Ludham Bridge.