The Three Rivers Race - 2009

Page updated: 7 February 2010

The event described below is not a conventional race for sailing craft. If you are not familiar with the course and the kind of craft that take part, then you should read a little about the Three Rivers Race before continuing.

Go to TopPreparations

After my first two attempts on the Three Rivers Race in 2006 and 2008, I was determined to compete again. Liz was not so keen. In fact, she was so unkeen, that she planned to leave the country in the week leading up to the race. This put any thought of having the local base for the race out of the picture. Not that that was a concern for me. The work that I had done on the boat before the 2008 race meant I was now quite happy to overnight aboard. Indeed I had already spent several weekends aboard Imagination during the summer of 2008 with my last trip as late as October. The plan for 2009 was, therefore, to get the boat to Horning before the race weekend and sleep aboard on the Friday before the race, but more about that later...

Go to TopFinding Crew

When I asked Eric Lucas, my crew for 2008, about doing it again in 2009 he wrote describing his thoughts, answer had to be once is enough - my problem was that after driving 12 hours from Scotland, losing sleep on the race and then having to drive 12 hours back again made it more of an ordeal than I would want to undertake again with the risk of a similar result.

I could understand that. So I asked my brother again, He refused to give an outright, "No!", but it was clear that if I had twisted his arm and got him to agree, it would only take the slightest excuse and I could easily find myself without crew too late in the day to find a substitute. It seemed wise, therefore, not to press the matter.

Ian Ruston at the helm of Imagination

Ian Ruston, seen on the "Return to the Pleasure Boat" cruise, after the 2008 race

However, this year finding crew was not to be a problem. Ian Ruston, who had been away last year in the vital few days when I put out my call for crew, was available and still keen to take the race on. He knew the boat. It was he, of course, who had come on the "Return to the Pleasure Boat" cruise after last year's race. He had read the reports, so knew, at least in theory, exactly what was involved and he was local, so there was a good chance that we could put in a few practice cruises to refine our techniques for the race.

Go to TopImproving The Boat

The next issue was the boat. Although I had managed to make Imagination a workable overnight boat in time for the 2008 race, I had always had plans for further improvements. Before 2008, the cabin had been completely empty forward of the bulkheads that support the A-frame that in turn supports the base of the mast.

In 2006 everything - food, clothes, and so on - was simply bundled in the front half of the cabin in a mix of carrier bags and enormous cool boxes. Both wives, it seemed, had vied with each other to make sure their husbands were well stocked with food and drink with a sufficient surplus to keep his brother well fed too. We were massively over provisioned. Further, because it was all stowed aboard in the last hour before the race nothing had its place. Place is vital in the confines of a small boat. Everything should have a place and always be in it. In 2006 nothing was where you last put it. In consequence it was a nightmare trying to find anything as no bag or box ever got returned to the same place.

In the weeks leading up to the 2008 season I had finally added a shelf for a small cooker, with storage below, a sink, with very small draining board, and a range of low level lockers which could double a perch on which one could squat, you couldn't really call it seating, when using the cooker. The storage and lockers could hold a good proportion of the provisions needed for overnight trips. This was to make the cabin so much more usable than it had been at the time of the 2006 race.

The Cabin in 2008

The Cabin of "Imagination" as it was at the time of the 2008 race

Now, for 2009, I added further high level shelving to the port side from the bulkheads to the anchor locker and a removable extension to the draining board running across the boat. Apart from its function when washing up, this serves as a useful work surface when preparing and serving meals, When under way, this extra shelf gets stowed behind a couple of brackets fixed on the hull on the starboard side of the cabin above the low level lockers.

The Cabin in 2009

The galley area in 2009, with additional high level shelving and the
removable extension to the draining board

The new storage space in the galley area provides all the room needed for cooking pots, crockery and cutlery. using a combination of plastic five litre jerry cans and recycled milk bottles some fifteen litres of water can be stowed in the space under the cooker and the lockers to port. In further space forward more than enough provisions for a crew of two for a long weekend can now be neatly stowed. Further storage was also added to the aft cabin wall in the form of pockets suitable for maps, magazines, mobile phone and the like. The one to starboard is narrower than the other as a fire extinguisher, needed to comply with the Boat Safety Scheme, has been mounted by the cabin door.

Finally, the interior of the cabin was given a re-paint. Previously I had used a "kitchen and bathroom" emulsion, but I found that this started to flake off almost as soon as it was put on. That may have been because I did very little to prepare the surface properly. This time, I spent some time with a wire brush attachment on my drill going over the interior of the cabin. Then I used some Dulux paint that I found in my garage, labelled "multi-surface primer and undercoat". There's no mention of GRP or plastic on the can, but it does say it's suitable for wood, metal and brick. It is water-based and dries fast, being ready to over paint in two hours. I topped it off with some Dulux Satinwood Quickdry. This is also water-based and touch dry in thirty minutes. Although the can says it's suitable for wood and metal, it has stuck well enough on the undercoat and several months on there is no sign of the paint flaking as it did before. I'm very pleased with it, and it was all done in little more than a morning.

The Cabin in 2009

At the back of the cabin the fire extinguisher and one of the two new storage pockets can be seen. For 2009 the battery box also now has an isolation switch. Also, note how both pieces of the door stow beside the toilet without intruding into the bunk space

Most SeaHawks have storage pockets just under the gunwales which are fitted with an upholstered strip on the front. This strip is normally in a finish that matches the bunk cushions and acts a backrest when the bunks are in their day time seating mode. It was hoped to lose the ex-caravan cushions, inherited from the previous owner, and add something similar to "Imagination". However, time ran out when it became urgent to get the boat back in the water. The gunwale storage and backrest remains a project for the future. Even if these are not fitted, reducing the depth of the existing cushions is on the cards, as currently they have quite an impact on shoulder space when the bunks are used for sleeping.

By the time of the race, externally, the boat remained much as it was in 2008. Ian had persuaded me to go to the Boat Jumble event, on Sunday 5 April, at the Show Ground in Norwich. He wanted buying various oddments for his own boat and I was wanted to find a Highfield Lever. Ian's idea was that the lever should be able to put the tension into the forestay that I felt it needed. One of the problems that I had experienced since installing the jam cleat on the halyard in 2008 was a lack of tension in it. This was inevitable as the cleat only grips the line once it has fallen back slightly and the two cams tightened on the rope. The problem showed less in the forestay but rather in the shrouds, where there would be excessive slackness on the downwind side of the boat when under way. I found one that I thought suitable. However, after much playing with various places to mount the lever I bought, I ended up not fitting it.

The main problem was that I discovered that the lever I had bought had a quick-release facility. Wherever it was going to be mounted it would be dangerously easy to tread on it and release it by mistake. It seems the best approach will be to imitate the traditional method on a river cruiser and fit a pair of bocks to the forestay, one with becket. With a few turns round the blocks the quarter inch of inevitable slack should be geared down to a fraction of that, so effectively keeping the full tension applied to the line.

However, the trip to the Boat Jumble proved its worth after an incident three weeks later on Hickling Broad. I was sailing with two others on a "demonstration" cruise. One had been persuaded to try a SeaHawk as a boat to buy for herself. All was going well, when I realised that all was not well with the rudder. We quickly realised that one of the gudgeons failed. We managed to return to the dyke and thanks to the other crew member, who happened to have a bolt that fitted perfectly, we managed to effect a temporary repair. Once back home I bought some more bolts and made a more secure repair, pouring in resin I had bought at the Jumble into various gaps, to make sure that the repairs were sealed from further attacks of damp. The problem was that a repair done by one of the previous owners have been done with galvanised bolts. In the end, these had simply rotted away to nothing.

The one change that could have been noticed by the eagle-eyed when passing by my mooring, but only if they had been familiar with Imagination in previous years, was the fact that the cabin door is now in two pieces. I had thought long and hard about whether to make this modification, but eventually decided that the advantages of being able to stow the door so much more unobtrusively far out-weighed any disadvantages. Divided horizontally, both the bottom and top halves can be stowed vertically, to one side of the bunk, in the foot well of the quarter-berth. At the level I made the cut the shorter bottom half fits fully under the gunwale. It is held in place by the taller arch-topped top half which is held vertical by fitting it in the hollow part of the cabin side wall that extends into the cockpit. This has proved a very successful modification for me. Whether it can be applied to all SeaHawks is not yet tested. In other boats the under gunwale shelves extend into the area where the arched top of the upper piece fits, but that need not concern us here.

Go to TopPractising Manoeuvres

Time might have been found to fit the under gunwale shelves cabin if it hadn't been for the impending closure of the Pleasure Boat Inn at Hickling. I had paid my annual mooring fee back in January, but with news that the landlady was due to be evicted on Thursday 16 April by the pub's owners, the dreaded "Enterprise Inns" I was keen to get my boat in the water and claim my mooring. Without anyone at the pub either to allocate or to police the moorings, I feared someone would take the space that was mine last year. In fact, when I arrived, the day before the pub was to be vacated, someone had.

That left me with a problem. The only spaces left at the front of the pub were those nearer the Broad where dyke is wider and the hire craft moor. Of course, its not an essential requisite to lack all understanding of boats and water when you hire a boat, but those who book the type of motor cruiser that has a single level cabin and forward steering position, do seem especially prone to getting up to the most ridiculous antics. I didn't want my boat to suffer at the hands of a full throttle hire boater.

Perhaps the favourite trick is to treat the boat like a car. In a car you change direction by moving the front towards where you want to go but, of course, with a boat you align your craft on a new course by swinging the back end in the opposite direction, much as you do when reversing a car. The result is typically seen when the boat's crew fail to push off sufficiently or the helmsman fails to wait until the bows have moved away from the bank. As soon as the boat is untied, the throttle is pushed full ahead and the wheel spun to turn into the middle of the stream but, instead of moving the bow further out, all that happens is that the stern does its best to claw at the bank like cheese on a grater. The boat then moves with ever increasing speed straight at the next moored boat while the quay heading acquires a fresh coat of paint scrapped from the stern of the boat.

Another popular manoeuvre of these boaters, having entered a narrowing dead end, like the dyke at the Pleasure Boat, is the execution of a three point turn. Invariably, it would be more appropriate to release the stern line and gently drive the stern round, while another a crew member takes the bow rope and walks slowly along the bank so the bows come to occupy the space where the stern was.

With these thoughts in mind, and having launched the boat on the Parish slipway, I found myself an empty spot on the dyke behind the pub and moored. Large and heavy boats stay out of this private dyke so I felt Imagination would be much safer. The space I found was just big enough and was alongside another SeaHawk. At least that made me feel that I was amongst sympathetic craft. The only disadvantage is that the back dyke has more large trees around it and I worried that charging my battery through the solar panel might prove less effective.

That weekend I was out on my first cruise of the season. It was gusting force five, at least, on the Saturday night, as initially, I tried to hide out of the wind up Waxham New Cut. However, the foul stench from the orange coloured water flooding out of the channel persuaded me, that I'd get a less noxious night out in Horse Mere itself. I found a bay at the northern edge of the broad and dropped the mud weight over the bows, cooked a meal and retired for the night. The rigging slapping on the mast woke me at least every hour until around three in the morning, but after that the wind must have dropped a little, or I was too tired to take notice of the noise any more. After that I slept soundly till after seven.

I was back on board the following weekend. I made my way as far as Womack Water on the Sunday, where I dropped the mud weight and and had lunch. Going below Potter meant the mast had to be lowered. As I explained in last year's report, on a SeaHawk, this has a number of complications:

The problem is that the mast pivots a foot above the cabin roof. As a result the bottom of the mast moves forwards as it is lowered and the distance from the halyard cleats increases significantly. It means both jib and main halyards must be slackened off before the mast is lowered. Not only that, as the fore stay lengthens as the mast is lowered, either the jib's tack point needs to be disconnected, or the jib must be unhanked from the fore stay, to allow the thimble at the base of the fore stay to move with the mast as it comes down. The final problem is that the gooseneck lacks the flexibility to allow mast and boom to fold together without it being separated from the mast.

Since then I had realised that I shouldn't need to release the tack of the jib when dropping the mast. All I needed to do was release the lowest of the clips that hold the jib to the forestay. The trip below Potter proved it to be true. Once the bottom clip was disconnected from the forestay, the thimble could slide past it without obstruction. After that I was ready to call Ian to arrange a date to test the other ideas that we had been discussing in emails.

Given Eric's report on last year's race, Ian wanted to test my genoa, to see if that provided a significant boost to Imagination's speed, and we both wanted to see whether we could shorten the process I had used previously for handling the main sail. This can be seen in photographs of the 2006 race and involved rolling the sail round the boom, then detaching the boom from the mast, swinging it backwards to clear the cabin and then forward again and through the cabin door. The aft end of the boom remained supported by the topping lift during the manoeuvre, taking much of the weight. It was reasonably straight forward, but the business of furling and stowing then raising the sail afterwards certainly lost some time.

Our conflicting diaries meant that proved more difficult than I had first assumed to get together. In the end we didn't achieve it until the thirteenth of May. We sailed out to the south western corner of Hickling Broad as dropped the mud weight over the bow. We had decided that one way to save time furling the sail, was simply not to bother furling it. Many other of the fast dinghies use this approach, as do all the river cruisers that shoot the bridges. The main concerns were whether having all that cloth flapping about the cockpit was going to get in the way of us paddling and making steering adjustments and whether it would provide any additional problems when it came to raising the mast again.

We tried it a couple of times and decided that the extra flapping sail were not a significant handicap to paddling and although, compared to using my traditional technique, having to lift the full weight of the sail and boom did make the mast heavier when getting it up, it was certainly not impossible when there was a second pair of hands in the cockpit to help keep things in place. So that decision was made. No furling of the main on lowering the mast.

Then we turned to the genoa. Mine is not a Jeckells sail. It has a "Fylde" logo sewn on it and came with the boat when I bought it. It is well made and of better quality that the new suit of sails that I bought from Jeckells in 2005, but I only remember hoisting it twice. The first time, I attempted it with the tack on the end of the short strop that comes with the standard jib. The luff was simply too long so I dismissed it. I assumed that sail was not a SeaHawk's, believing that the strop was a necessary feature to ensure that the sail didn't deform when it fouled the pulpit, which it was bound to when anything other than close-hauled. The following season I had tried again without the strop. It just fitted, occupying the full height of the forestay from deck to mast. Still wanting to make use of the sail, in 2008 I took it to Jeckells to ask if it could be trimmed to fit. They looked at it, measured it, and told me that it seemed to be just about the standard size for a SeaHawk genoa. I remained unconvinced, but as they weren't saying it was definitely the wrong size and once again I had put the sail away.

Hoisting it this time both luff and foot were as I remembered them. The foot still seemed rather long. The jib sheets could not be fully tightened. Not that one would want the sheets too tight, as there needs to be a slight curve in the foot for the sail to adopt the ideal shape. Nevertheless, I thought that if it was indeed cut to SeaHawk measurements then it was designed for the winches that would have been fitted to a Moore's built boat. I still felt it was a couple of inches too long for the cabin-top fairleads on my boat. In spite of my reservations about the sail, Ian was keen to take advantage of the extra size the genoa offered. I agreed that it was a close enough fit to have a go at using it, should the wind be in the right direction come the race. I reasoned to myself that both my previous races had started downwind, and a look at photographs of other past races showed that a downwind start is the norm.

We didn't attempt any paddling. We didn't practice trying to shoot a bridge. With the new techniques we were planning to use I had hoped that it might have proved possible but, on reflection, I realised that while I might have been able to do everything necessary on the foredeck, it would leave Ian, not only having to ensure that no lines were becoming fouled as the mast rose, supporting it while I applied the maximum tension possible on the forestay, re-hoisting and securing the halyards, he would also need to be steering. It might work with three people on board but wasn't realistic with only two.

Those couple of hours turned out to be the only training session we had before the race. The next weekend Ian was tied up with the UK Home Boat Builders Rally at Barton Broad. The UK-HBBR are an interesting, loose knit, group of people, with no formal structure, that communicate via a YahooGroup mail list. The UK-HBBR was the reason I had first met Ian. In 2008 he was coordinating arrangements for the first UK-HBBR Barton rally. Having discovered the event, I was researching an article, later published in "Anglia Afloat" magazine. The weather over the Bank Holiday in 2008 had been pretty diabolical. However, those who had attended had enjoyed the venue so much that they had opted to return again. So, once again, Ian had taken responsibility for coordinating the event. With the only weekend left before the race, written off, there was no other free time that we shared up till the race weekend.

Go to TopFrom Hickling to Horning

It was now the weekend before the race. Ian was at Barton Broad and I needed to move Imagination to Horning to be ready for the race. I approached my usual contact in Horning to beg a berth. I hadn't given the notice that I had in previous years and this time I did need to grovel a little more than before, but in the end it was agreed. I arrived at Hickling late on the Friday night and loaded my boat for a weekend cruise. It was the first time I had arrived at the mooring after dark, so this was the first time I had slept at my mooring rather than swinging on a mud weight in the middle of the Broad.

Behind the Pleasure Boat Inn

I awake and stare out the other moorings at the rear of the Pleasure Boat Inn

I awoke to find a clear blue sky and a flat calm. It was ten to seven by the time I poked my head out of the cabin door and took my first photograph. Then I washed and dressed and had breakfast before completing the unpacking of the car. This included putting my bike aboard as that was going to be needed after leaving the boat at Horning for the ride back to Hickling.

Semi-folded bike and bike in car

On the left, the bike is part folded and on the right, it is packed in the rear foot well.
No movement of the car seats is required. It fits with the seats in their normal position

My Brompton cycle is not a cheap machine, but a wonderful piece of engineering and normally claimed to be the smallest folding bike in production. I fell in love with a Brompton in 2003 after a trip with friends from Lancaster to Leeds, taking a route down the Lancaster Canal, through the Ribble Link, across the estuary, then via the Rufford Branch to the main line of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, and so across the Pennines to the Bingley Five Rise, the famous lock system on the outskirts of Halifax. But that is all for a different report. Suffice it to say that I became the main lock-wheeler on that jaunt.

By the time I'd finished loading the boat and rigged her almost two hours had passed since I first rose. I deliberately took my time working across Hickling against the wind. One reason I wandered further from the channel than usual was because I had always promised myself that, one day, I would do a full tour of the shores of Hickling Broad. I had never got round to it and on a pleasant day with time to spare now seemed the time to visit those parts I normally avoided. On the western shore there is an area which has a number of small islands. Islands is, perhaps, the wrong word. In another environment it might be better to think of them as mere rocks, but because it's the Broads they're not rock but composed of peat and plant root. They are the site where many assorted ducks and geese will pose and posture.

Duck paddling in Hickling Broad Shallows

Lesson: When you spot that the ducks are walking it's time to come about.
Instead, I stick fast aground and it takes15 minutes to get free

I sailed up close with a mind to try and capture some of the fowl on camera. This is not an especially easy task with my camera, which really needs two hands to control, as it has a manual zoom, not a motor driven one. Somehow, between concentrating on the boats while aiming the camera and waiting for a suitable shot I got much closer than I intended and found myself aground.

Normally, when you go aground in Broadland rivers you fail to notice that you have hit anything. You simply become aware that you have stopped moving. The SeaHawk's keel slices into the soft mud, slowing you, oh so gently, that you don't feel anything. This was different. It was more sudden that usual, but still totally silent. At first, I thought it would be simple. I got out a paddle and from right t the stern of the boat I started to work. That did nothing, except prove that while the boat would turn, it wouldn't otherwise move. It seemed I had grounded the leading part of the flat base of the main central keel.

The next approach was to try to push off. Doing that from the cockpit proved impossible. My extending boat hook simply wasn't long enough to reach a firm bit of the nearest peat "rock". In any case I doubted of the wisdom of the attempting it as the pole can't handle great pressure. It just telescopes. However, I gave it the toughest twist I could to try to prevent collapsing and tried. Failure. Moving forward in the boat also meant that I added more weight to just the area which was already stuck fast. Sure enough, that didn't work either.

The wind was slowing developing into a pleasant breeze and It seemed that my sails weren't helping. While the boat might have spun a little as I pushed. The wind just brought me back again. I wasn't clear if they were helping blow me further on to the obstruction or not, but, for safety's sake, I took them down. At least there would be less risk that, as the boat spun, the boom would push me overboard while I struggled on the cabin top to make purchase with the nearest firm ground. The lifting keel came up too. You might think that that should have been the first thing to be done. However, there was no stiffness in the keel plate, confirming my first thought, that it was on the main flat bottomed keel that she was wedged, not on the thin steel plate that swings down through a slot in its centre. In any case, experience has taught me that it is often better to leave it down, as, unless you are ready to sail off the obstruction, lifting the keel tends to allow you to be blown further onto the shallows making your position somewhat worse.

The next thing to try was rocking the boat. This can prove a very useful technique in very soft mud. As the keel rocks back and forth in can be made to excavate a channel, allowing you to escape. However, this time it didn't work. Instead the boat just swung like the arm of a metronome, using the obstruction as a pivot. Things got more desperate when I turned to throwing the mud weight as far over the stern as I could manage and then attempting to haul Imagination off her perch. How I began to curse my desire to get better photographs of common or garden birds, who didn't seem in any way worthy of the efforts that I was now going through.

The day was getting warmer and I began to fancy that the breeze was picking up a little. More importantly, it seemed to be turning slightly and I was no longer convinced that having the sails up would prove a disadvantage. In the end no one technique seemed to bring her off. I just be came aware that there was a slight shift in position and the next thing I knew a backed jib brought her free.

That incident was enough to convince me there was no more time for sight-seeing in my local Broad. I headed off to the main channel and my way out of Hickling.

Moored below Potter Heigham Bridge

Another yacht passes through the bridge that is the great challenge of the Three Rivers

Potter, of course, would be the next main hazard for many a boat, but not for my little SeaHawk, especially not on a Saturday morning. Saturday is changeover day for the majority of hire boats and by mid-morning the hire boats are tucked in the marina beside the bridge and cleaners and maintenance staff are hard at work preparing them for the next set of holiday makers. It means that a relative calm descends upon the waterways of the Broads for a few hours. It even meant that nobody moaned at me for using the water point to hoist sails having passed under the bridge.

Other than a Saturday morning the river is always a busy area. There's the constant traffic of turning boats as, for many, Potter proves to be the head of navigation when the bridge pilot says that there is no possibility of making a passage today. While many small craft do pass through the bridge, all hire craft are these days required to use the services of the pilot, as the ever larger, and more luxurious, craft entering the hire fleets means that many are too close to the limit. Even if they can get through, many are advised against it as tides or recent rainfall can mean that they might not be able to return before their holiday ends.

The bridge also leads to a constant change over of moored boats as many do stop for a little longer than is required just to get a refusal or booking from the bridge pilot. People take advantage of their enforced stop to move to the water point to top up their tanks and then back again as they wait for their crew members to return from the pub, the large discount store or fish and chip shops that are all close to the bridge. Apart from the boats and their crews there are the holiday makers that come to stay in the many river-side chalets on both banks above and below the bridge, and the day trippers too. All lead to the general hubbub that is Potter Heigham.

Losing a quant pole at Potter Heigham

© 2009 Keith Furbank

The inevitable "Three Men in a Boat" pole joke happened a week later, during the race!

And with the following weekend in mind, I have to say that Potter deserves its reputation for being the place to watch the Three Rivers Race too, either because, with so much traffic, there are bound to be general boating incidents, there are going to be racing incidents too.

Two boats attempting Potter Bridge at the same time

© 2009 David Church

Two into one won't go! Don't ask me who has right of way under sailing rules
when you're not actualy sailing!

Although, the plan for Imagination, when racing, was not to furl the main on passing through bridges, when solo I still do furl the main completely, as I did when tackling the bridges in the 2006 Three Rivers Race. Although it does take a little longer, it does leaves the deck tidy. That is important when, without any crew, you need to have confidence that you won't trip over line or slip on the sails when timing your leap from cockpit to foredeck as you approach the shore to moor.

Approaching Thurne Mouth

Approaching Thurne Mouth, with a hire yacht ahead making the turn up the Bure

With Potter safely out of the way it was on towards Thurne Mouth. This promised to be full of activity as the weekend before the Three Rivers Race is the date for the Thurne Mouth Open Regatta. It is an event that is some eleven years older than the Three Rivers having first been held in 1947 and has grown to become a full three day event held over the Bank Holiday week end.

It's a great event for traditional Norfolk craft, with river cruisers and Yare and Bure One Designs in great evidence on the program. This year the BBC were due to be in residence, filming for the "Country File" program. However, I hadn't realised that on the Saturday the racing didn't start till the afternoon, so when I passed by just after one o' clock, there were only a handful of crews aboard their yachts seemingly more interested in lunch or catching up on the news with friends and no sailing was going on at all. Indeed, I followed the only yacht under sail, an Eastwood Welpton Hire craft, making its way past the regatta site and turning up the Bure.

Passing How Hill

Apart from the plastic cruiser in the distance, this view of How Hill,
now a Field Study Centre, might have been taken forty years ago

By half past two I was approaching How Hill, well on my way up the Ant. Although, before the weekend, I had no precise plan for the cruise to Horning, one option had been to make my way up the Ant to visit the members of the UK-HBBR. As it was turning out wind was not the problem that I had feared when I woke up and I was confident that, not only was getting to Horning not going to be a problem, Barton on Saturday night was more than feasible.

Having passed under Ludham Bridge, a feat not required on the Three Rivers Race itself, I felt I was in new territory, as the last time I had last been this way aboard my father's SeaHawk, "Jemima", over thirty years ago.

A SeaHawk moored at Irstead

The owner of this SeaHawk was at work in his garden. It seems that the trouble with owning a large riverside house is that there's always work to be done, stopping you from going sailing

Progress up the Ant was steady rather than fast. Once past How Hill the river becomes more heavily lined with trees, particularly so as you pass through the narrow reach at Irstead. I couldn't resist taking a photograph of a moored SeaHawk and talking to the man tending the garden there, teasing him that he really ought to be out sailing. Finally, the river widens and you find yourself in Barton Broad. It was half past three. Once past the large central island that seems to block your way north towards Stalham and Sutton, I began to see a number of small open boats, that weren't the typical racing dinghy. These, I knew, would be the products of the members of the UK Home Built Boat Rally.

Having been to visit the group and see the boats close up and out of the water I can tell you that some are absolute wonders of woodworking and varnish. However, I have to conclude that boat builders are a strange lot. Most seem to take more joy from the construction of their craft than actually being out on the water. Some actually have a fear of water. When you see what skill they exhibit, you can understand how it must have become an all consuming passion. Should you think that building your own boat is the cheapskates way of getting afloat. Let me assure you it is not. Buying a second hand boat is most definitely the quicker, cheaper and more convenient way to get afloat. No, home boat building is all about personal satisfaction of having something that is uniquely yours and very little about being afloat.

But the various small open boats were not the one in which I was interested. I homed in on a small, battleship grey and heavily reefed yacht, for that is my crew's boat, and I was seeing it afloat for the first time. Last year it had been brought to the rally half built and lacking any paint. Ian had developed a very severe reaction to epoxy resin and it nearly meant he had to abandon the project completely.

Ian Ruston at the helm of Deux Chevaux

Ian at the helm of his home built boat at the UK Home Boat Builders Rally on Barton Broad

The name and colour scheme of his boat come about because of a car that he once owned stripped to its most intimate components and then re-built. (The story can be found on the IanHurley20 blog) Those who know the Selway Fisher catalogue should recognise it as a "Lynx 14", although, like most home builders it would seem, Ian has made some changes to the design laid out in the plans that you buy. In his case he has added four inches to the height of the cabin.

It seems that I had arrived close to the end of the day's sailing for the HBBR's members and soon I found myself following the other's boats back at the Barton Turf Adventure Centre moorings. With some time to kill before the evening's barbecue, I decided that the best way to use my time was to fetch the car from Hickling. Getting it to Barton meant halving the distance to cycle after leaving the boat at Horning and that would be no bad thing.

I retrieved my bike from the cabin and pedalled off towards the main road around the head of Barton Broad. A turn opposite Sutton Staithe puts you on a pleasant back lane for cycling which takes you pretty well straight to Hickling. Once back at Barton Turf my plan had been to leave my car almost next to the boat, but the notices declared that overnight parking was not allowed, so I begged a space at BTAC instead.

The evening was spent with the builders and their families. After a hearty barbecue all retired into the main room at the centre. Guitars and harmonicas were produced and a splendid evening followed with much singing and joke telling, while some the younger folk sat in the corner and played with their Nintendo machines.

Moorings at Barton Turf

My mooring for the night at Barton Turf. The Adventure Centre moorings are in the background

I left the party before it finally broke up and had an excellent night aboard, sleeping well into day light. Indeed, I think what woke me were the crews of the two large cruisers moored beside me, in animated conversation. I decided I needed some peace, so hoisted sails and set off for the broad where I dropped the mud weight about half way down to the Punt Club's pontoons. Although I normally use the mud weight when spending a night on the boat rather than mooring, I tend to nose the boat into some reeds at the edge of a broad. This was the first time I was out in the middle and and as the breeze was especially light all I had done after throwing the weight over the bows was to drop the jib and give a good heave on the topping lift in order to destroy most of the effect of the wind on the main sail. Leaving the sails up meant the boat tended to twist more with each gentle puff, but thereby provided ever changing views of the neighbouring boat doing exactly the same as I.

Two views of the same yacht

A neighbouring yacht, swinging on her mooring, provides an ever changing view

After breakfast I returned to BTAC to say farewell properly to Ian and the rest and set off for Horning. I was lucky, having the wind on my stern for most of the way down the river. Shortly before reaching Ludham bridge I encountered the magnificent wherry, Hathor, taking passengers up river to How Hill. Although as I passed her, there was wind in her sails, it seems there was still not enough. I couldn't work out if it was one of the crew or a passenger giving a helping hand with the quant.
Hathor with Quant assistance on the Ant

Hathor is being giving some quant assistance as she works into the wind

After the bridge it was a continuing pleasant sail into Horning. I was mightily pleased to find myself making considerable ground on another yacht and overtaking it. I wish I knew its class so I could brag about it in the appropriate circles. It was half past four as I passed the wonderful thatched mansion that to me says "The Broads". I first photographed it in 1964 while on a three hour cruise out of Wroxham. Herbert Woods' biography reveals that the boat I remember must have been the 100 seater trip boat built at Potter Heigham for Broads Tours of Wroxham. That photograph looks very much the same as the view as I see it now, except for the octagonal summer house, which was yet to be built. Even the outline of the trees seems much the same.

Thatched House at Horning

You know you're nearing Horning when you reach this landmark house

Finally, I enter the buildings that are Horning. With the river encased in scrub of the Woodbastwick marshes on the western bank and many of the gardens with lovingly tended trees to the east, it can became a nightmare passage fr a sailor. I remember the trip in 2006. Then I had come direct from Hickling in a six hour cruise with the first shower starting before I reached Potter. At least it was unbroken sunshine this time. Then, by the time I was on the outskirts of Horning the rain had set in. I tried to make the best of it. At least coming down the final reach past the New Inn the wind had been on the stern. It meant, the boom was swung well out so the main sail wasn't catching all the rain and shooting it all down the back of my neck any more.

I wondered if the great weather this time meant that it was my turn for a wet Three Rivers. I'd already had two splendid dry races, was a third too much to hope for? I had wondered if rain meant wind. That would be no bad thing and might provide the chance of a finish. However, I had also read that the worst races are those where the rain buckets down and there is no wind. Could this race turn out to be a dispiriting disaster?

More worrying was not being able to find my contact to confirm arrangements about my mooring for the week. Eventually I did, but the conversation did not go well. I had left things late when I had phoned and, perhaps, had made assumptions that I shouldn't have done. In the end things seemed to be patched up. Then there was a cycle ride back to BTAC to be made to pick up the car. I was certainly glad that I had moved the the car from Hickling. Back in Horning I emptied the boat, as I always do, of all my belongings and made my way home. Now all that was left was the race itself.

Go to TopThe Race

Go to TopThe Night before the Race

Packing the car ready for any overnight trip on Imagination has become a fairly well rehearsed procedure. After a number of early trips when I managed to forget things as basic as tiller, engine, cooker or water, I now have a packing list which I run through every trip to remind me of things to take. It's always a work in progress. I take it with me so I can add things that I must remember on the next trip, perhaps for the inevitable minor repairs that are needed from time to time.

In spite of the list, I've still been known to skip over an item thinking I can't possibly forget that, I'll pack it later, and then manage to forget it. However, with crew relying on me, I took a little more care with packing. It was after lunch when I set off for Horning and, this time, I managed to take everything intended.

When I reached Imagination, all was as I had left her. The first task was to transfer everything to the boat, then the car had to be found a parking space where it would be reasonably safe for a couple of days. Before returning to the boat I took the opportunity to wander round the village. All was much as I remembered it from 2008. Even the thatched cottage, which Liz and I had considered buying the year before was still on the market. At the Sailing Club there were a few people around, seemingly in much the same position as me, getting their boats ready for the arrival of other crew members. I briefly considered moving Imagination to the Sailing Club, outside the Swan or Public staithe before nightfall, but decided that I would be better off on the island mooring opposite the public staithe at the entrance to the village marina, away from the commotion that would be developing over the next few hours.

On my return to Imagination I made myself busy making sure that there was room for Ian's gear. When alone, I spread my belongings out, using the space under both bunks, but this time I took care to stow things as neatly as possible in half the space that I normally use. Even so, it wasn't going to be possible for us each to have a usable berth. In order to keep the forward area of the cabin free, so it was easy to use the stove, the toilet was still stowed under the cockpit on the starboard berth. This was also where I stowed the engine and, when under way, the two halves of the cabin door.

Swan Inn at Night

Boats were moored three deep at The Swan Inn on the night before the race

Moorings on the island were soon full. Next to me was a hire cruiser and talking to one of their crew brought back memories of my parents move to Norfolk on Dad's retirement. They had discovered that half the people in their village took their annual holidays within the county. The crew aboard my neighbours for the night followed the pattern. They lived in Norfolk, near Hunstanton. They knew nothing of the Three Rivers Race, so as they had no need to rush to get home the next day, I suggested that they stay in the area after they had returned their craft to the boatyard so they could see all the action.

As is my habit when aboard, I settled down in my sleeping bag quite early. With no television and limited lighting for reading, I tend to fall asleep listening to the radio or podcasts on my MP3 player. This time I was still awake just after ten o' clock so I decided to set up my tripod and take some photographs of the Swan Inn, before finally settling down for the night.

Go to TopBefore the Race

I was awake before 6:30. Unlike 2008, when there had been a thick mist hanging over the Horning, this time I was bathed in glorious sunshine with a slight breeze. In spite of the bright light some of the nearby ducks still appeared asleep. Saturday, being turn-round day for most hire craft, meant that many of the cruisers began to move off. Within the next hour there were gaps in front of both the Swan Inn and the village staithe.

Duck asleep at Horning

It's 6:30 on race morning. A neighbouring duck is still asleep

Meanwhile, Ian was still at home finishing his breakfast of toast and marmalade. His own list of things to bring included three life jackets, one in case of accidental inflation and a spare paddle. He had read my report of the 2008 race and knew how one of Eric's had disintegrated. A text announced he was on his way and that prompted me to move Imagination across the river to take up a position in front of the pub. When Ian arrived he found it strange that I was moored up on my own, while boats nearby were all at least 4 deep. After getting all Ian's gear aboard, I made a mental note that this should be the last time I allow crew to make their own catering arrangements and that next time food and drink should be planned jointly.

With everything stowed the next job was to sort out the navigation lights. If we were to use the genoa, which Ian was so keen to do, then their usual location, fixed to the shroud anchorages, would leave them liable to foul the sail. Not only were the plastic brackets likely to be damaged, but it was quite possible that the lights themselves, which were only loosely clipped into position, would go flying into the water. We discussed the options. In the end we decided on an illegal approach as we left off the reflector that constrains the beam from the port and starboard lights, while the stern light bracket was mounted, with more cable ties, on the rudder as it had been in previous years.

Race Control

Should I have known about a secret ear-lobe tug sign when collecting the race papers?

After that it was off to the Race Control desk in the club house. We needed to pick up our competitor's folder. This includes the diagrams showing the Start line and X-Zone, a list of all the Guard Ships, and their locations, the latest edition of the starters list and the all-important tokens that are to be dropped in the buckets at the South Walsham, Hickling and Lower Bure marks. Race Control was also the place to pick up the polo shirts that I had ordered, back in April, when sending off the entry fee for the race.

HSC Club House surrounded by boats

Forty minutes before the race briefing and the area around the club house gets ever busier

While at Race Control I lodged a protest. You might think it was a little early in the race to do that, but once again the papers I had received had given Imagination a handicap of 21. In 2006 my boat had been given a handicap of 23, the same a the Sailfishes that were taking part. Then in 2008 I found Imagination handicapped at 21, without any change of handicap for the other boats in my group that were running again. I had approached Colin Facey about it just after his briefing. He had directed me to someone to be found inside the club house, but being pressed for time then, I hadn't followed it up.

Colleagues amongst SeaHawk owners had informed me of the SeaHawk's Portsmouth Yardstick and it was rated significantly slower than a Sailfish. However, I also recognised that the race organisers might want to disallow boats with no chance of completing the course. Accordingly, I wasn't seeking a handicap that was greater than a Sailfish, but I did wish, at least, to hear the justification for the change, or an acknowledgement that there had been a clerical error. This year I planned to follow up my query with greater vigour. The young man I spoke to who was manning the timing desk as I approached seemed very helpful and at the end of our brief conversation, I understood that he would pass the request on the the appropriate person. With little time before the race I felt I had to leave it in his hands.

On the way back to the boat I made time to take a photograph of the activity around the club house as it became still more frenetic. Once aboard, I stowed the papers and donned the new shirt. The papers showed that this year our race number was 128, one of 12 boats in Start 14. The race gets ever more popular. In 2006 Imagination had been #94 in Start 11, consisting of just nine boats and in 2008, #119, Start 13, one of 13 boats. As ever the "Sailing Cruisers" as modern production GRP yachts are known in Three Rivers circles, are all placed in the final start. I hadn't time to examine the papers more closely. This year's shirt colour was offically described as "Purple". I was told that "Gold" has been reserved for 2010, the fiftieth Three Rivers Race. With my new shirt on, it was back to the club house to be ready for the briefing.

Crews assemble for the race briefing

© 2009 Ian Ruston

From the bridge to the club's island home, the crews are seen assembling for the Race Briefing

At most large events you'd expect the messages of thanks to the sponsors and volunteers and other supporters to be part of the prize giving held after the event. However, because the finish of the Three Rivers Race follows a pretty exhausting 24 hours with the finish spread over some fifteen hours, and stragglers returning after that, there is no formal conclusion on race day. Instead, there is a club dinner and prize giving held in October. Having never attended one, I assume, the dinner is the opportunity for the winning competitors to offer their thanks to all the those that put in the work that made the race the great event that it has become.

Paul Facey (right) with another speaker

It's the race briefing. Unfortunately, I can't stand still for too long without suffering pain. I have to fidget or walk about and easily get distracted. By the time this speaker had taken the microphone I had stopped listening to Colin Facey's introduction

As a result, the Three Rivers Race Briefing, is far more than a few notes on race safety, special rules and a confirmation of the course. It always involves speeches of thanks from the race committee chairman, and encouragement from the sponsors, and at least one further guest speaker. It might be a past chairmen, a competitor from the founding race or seemingly almost anyone with some historic connection with the race. Having now heard two Race Briefings I had begun to feel that I knew what to expect. For Ian, though, this was all new and his summary was that "it took a long while", concluding:

the important information came in about two minutes at the end, the weather and where we were going to on the lower leg of the race, Stracey Arms.

With the briefing completed, we had the information we needed. As before, the weather forecast offered nothing we did not know already and the lower Bure mark set for the Stracey Arms was as expected.

A crowd of masts and rigging

It is 11:25 and the turn of the Yare and Bure One Designs, to move into the X-Zone

There was the usual burst of activity as the crews in the earlier starts hoisted sail and made their way to the X-Zone, the area behind the start line that is out of bounds to all craft other than those in the next group of starters. We, too, needed to move. We had to get our boat beyond the buoy that marked the the start start of the X-Zone. The first start, at 11:00, was in less than half an hour, but we needed to moor somewhere where we could relax until our start at 12:15.

This year was very different to my previous races. Then, the wind had been in the North and we moored on the left bank, commandeering the gardens of the various riverside chalets. This year, for the first time, the wind was from the south and Ian had to make the jump ashore onto the uncertain ground of the Woodbastwick Marshes. That achieved without incident and once with a bow line tied to a small tree we could relax.

Yacht with Top Sail

At 11:44 the Thames A-Raters can be seen in the distance about to start while the fastest of the River Cruisers prepare to move into the X-Zone

We pass our time with a drink admiring the other boats tacking back and forth waiting for their start. I also use the time for some sail spotting. The SeaHawk site that I maintain includes a gallery of Jeckells logos. Over the years, the sail makers changed the marks that they attached to their sails. As all the Broads-built SeaHawks had sails supplied by Jeckells, the gallery is intended to help owners date their sails and perhaps, thereby, their boat too.

River Cruiser Class Yachts

More of the fastest river cruisers move to the X-Zone

After the disappointment of the late start in 2008, I was determined to be ready on time this year, so ten minutes before our start was due we cast off and began to stooge around in the area upstream of the buoy marking the start of the X-Zone.

Go to TopThe Start

It's not until the other boats in your class actually draw up to the X-Zone buoy that you can see who you are up against. In 2006 I had been disappointed not to see "Ondine", a Timpenny 670, which had once been owned by Tim Stringer. He had sold his SeaHawk and then bought a sequence of boats before returning to SeaHawk ownership. He never did achieve a finish in the Three Rivers in his SeaHawk, but had in his Timpenny. After selling it he had acted as crew for the new owner in a previous Three Rivers and that year I'd expected to see them both aboard again. Others shown on the list of starters had failed to appear as well. It was the same in 2008 with several of the listed starters failing to appear. However, this year, all the boats listed for our group, the final Start 14, were there and ready to race.

Only two of the boats had been on the starters list in both the previous years that I had taken part. "Y Knot" and "Water Bunting". The one I'd take most delight in beating would be "Y Knot", the distinctive yellow-hulled Prelude, which had finished on both previous occasions. A Prelude is a more modern design, longer, and carries more sail than a SeaHawk. All this gives it a significant speed advantage yet, for the last two years our handicaps were matched at 21, two points faster than a Sailfish. Given her record of finishes it would require a disaster aboard her for Ian and I to manage to finish ahead.

"Water Bunting", had the same 23 handicap as a Sailfish. She had been a no show in both 2006 and 2008, "withdrawn" in the language of the race, and I don't remember seeing her this year, although presumably she was present as the results list recorded her as retired, rather than withdrawn. For me she was just an entry on the starters list. I can't even spot her in any of the photographs I've seen of the 2009 race.

Another boat I had been looking forward to sailing beside was the Cornish Shrimper, "Cotehele". It was quite a surprise to see a boat in our start with a crew of four aboard. Four seemed over the top for a 19 foot boat. The Shrimper has a traditional appearance that I find attractive. There are a couple to be found in the Hickling area, but they have never been under sail when I have seen them, so I have been unable to give chase and see how they perform. They have the appearance of sea boats and I have always wondered about their performance as Broads boats. Their Three Rivers handicap is 20, but as we know, that doesn't necessarily mean much. They also command high prices, when new, some twenty times what I paid for "Imagination", so I am not sure they could ever give back to me as much pleasure per pound as my little SeaHawk.

Also present in the X-Zone were both the expected Sailfish, "Bobkat" and "Kathy". I had regarded the Sailfish as my closest rivals in the two previous races and, other than the SeaHawk, it is the one of the very few classes of small yacht that I have actually been aboard.

Two more boats that had both been in the 2008 race were "Gemima", which I believe may be a Gem 550 and "Patsy" (In the 2008 documentation, it was spelt "Patsie" and I'm not sure which is correct), a Hawk 20. Earlier in the year I recall talking to someone about my boat and, initially, he had taken my SeaHawk to be a Hawk 20 so I was interested to see how we compared. Given its handicap of 14, I suspected that it would not be too well!

The last of the boats in which I had an interest was "Electric Excalibur". I believe this was the sailing cruiser with whom Eric and I were trapped at Stokesby in 2008. She was listed as "Retired" in the 2008 results list, whereas we were recorded as a "Did Not Finish" which, I think could be interpreted as a more determined, result, if not a better one.

The official records show that Start 14 had its full compliment of 13 racers and certainly most of us were there cruising back and forth in the X-Zone. Of the remaining boats in our start the others meant less to me, but one that certainly caught my eye was "Chariot". I don't know it's class, but it was clearly designed as a racing boat and not a family cruiser. It appeared to be as light as a feather and lively as can be and its handicap of 14 seemed fully justified!

3RR 2009 - Crossing the Start Line

© 2009 Colin Galloway

At the turn immediately after the start Imagination is reasonably placed and with the wind to starboard while Kathy has turned early and into our path!

Having sized up the opposition, it was time to consider the start itself. You might think that with a couple of races under my belt I'd be reasonably confident, but this time it was different. Most significantly, for the first time, once round the bend after the start, we would be tacking. My two previous races had both been down wind affairs. This time there would be some real manoeuvring to be done. Having listened for the horn for the previous starts I reckoned my watch was about ten seconds adrift from race time, but counting time is only half the battle at Horning. The big problem is the diagonal start line.

You could say that there's a diagonal start line at Horning for the simple reason that a right angle turn in the river outside the club house means the view from there is directly downstream. But that must be only part of the story. Yes, you need to place a sighting mark on the opposite bank, but surely it doesn't have to be as far upstream as it is.

The answer must be both that a longer line allows for more boats to start at once and that it is an attempt to compensate for the turn in the river immediately after the start. Whatever the true reason, the fiendish side effect is that you need to be a twin-headed Janus, in order to keep the marks on both sides of the river in view. It's got to be a cunning Horning Sailing Club plot to ensure that visiting sailors are placed at a considerable disadvantage when planning their start. It works. After three attempts I still have no idea what pair of land marks on the same side of the river that I should use to know that I am still behind the start line.

I decide to ignore any effects that currents might have. At the turn I want to be well away from the tall Swan Inn which would take all the wind yet be a reasonable distance out from the bank on the opposite side to provide more options for manoeuvring. I also figure that should I arrive early at the start, I can alter course to slip along, but just behind the start line. That part of the plan works well.

Crossing the line, ahead and to port is Kathy, one of the two Sailfish. Behind but upwind is the Hawk 20. These are the two boats I need to worry about in making the turn ahead. We reach the turn and I want to get further into the centre of the river than Kathy does. She tacks ahead of me. It's the duty of an overtaking boat to keep clear, I'm on starboard tack and there's plenty of room ahead, so I figure that I have right of way and hold my course as long as I dare. Reluctantly, I make the turn. It's earlier than I would have wished but it's just too early, nor in the spirit of the Three Rivers, to consider making a formal protest, especially as it's hardly likely to make an impact on our eventual finishing positions in the race.

Looking at the photograph of the start it's hard to believe that I could have been worried about crossing the start line early, given how far ahead that Gemima is. As we engage with Kathy and make the tack round the bend she has already overtaken the trailing boats in the previous hire cruiser start and is working her way around cruisers causing their usual mayhem in mid river.

I find time to grab the voice recorder in my pocket and record "12:15. Crossed start line".

Go to TopHorning

The trip through Horning proved hectic. In previous years it had been a gentle glide down its watery street, with the boom swung out to one side and the jib on the other held out with an extending boat hook. Not so this time! There was constant jockeying for position with our immediate rivals, Kathy and Patsy.

As we begin to tack, after making the turn at the start, I begin to struggle. Imagination is not performing right. Very soon after that we lose a place to Patsy. I takes a few more tacks before I realise the implications of using the genoa that we had properly tested on our practice day. It was obvious really. The foot of the genoa is so big that you cannot use the fairleads on the cabin roof. Instead, the sail has to pass outside the shrouds and the sheet passes directly to the fairlead at the back edge of the cabin and so to the jam cleat. Quite simply, the boat could not point into the wind as close as with the standard jib. As we came about on a tack I was instinctively pointing the boat at the normal angle to make way and we didn't! Instead I had to bear further off the wind for the sail to fill.

There was nothing to do but release the figure of eight knots on the jib sheets and pull them free of the fairleads. With the sheets free we could pass them inside the shrouds, over the cabin roof and down, directly, to the cleats on the back of the cabin each side of the cabin door. It wasn't neat. The cleats are positioned to take the line from the fairlead and now the rope was approach from a 60° angle, but it did, at least, allow us to point into the wind at the normal angle.

While, in our brief test on Hickling earlier in the month, I had been persuaded that the genoa didn't get too badly caught up on the mast for easy tacking, now I was suddenly less sure. "That genoa's got to go!", I cried. It was something I repeat on just about every tack we made until we reached potter.

3RR 2009 - Along Horning Street

© 2009 Carol Gingell

After the start Patsy overtook us. Then as we approach the New Inn she gets caught out coming up behind a hire cruiser, and we seem to catch a breeze at the right moment...

Due to the difficulties with the genoa Patsy had been able to overtake us soon after the start. However, we had managed to recover some ground a few tacks later. By the time we were approaching the New Inn we were both coming up behind one of the hire cruisers. It seems that Patsy made a wrong decision about how to pass it and we seemed to be lucky with a gust. Whatever the reason, we manage to overtake Patsy, draw alongside Japonica 3, and were once more trailing immediately behind Kathy with Patsy and the hire cruiser behind us.

Passing a hire cruiser

© 2009 Carol Gingell

... for moments later we are ahead of her again and once again close behind Kathy

It's always been a puzzle to me that so many of the sailing cruisers manage to pass so many of the hire cruisers. The sailing cruiser fleet are, by and large, yachts of less than twenty feet with fairly small rigs. The hire cruisers have much taller rigs that reach above the trees and, although the hire boats are heavier, once in motion they have the momentum to continue travelling between gusts. I'd have expected them to romp away from the sailing cruisers in the tightly packed confines of Horning's "street".

In previous years, with running starts, I had put the ability to catch the hire cruisers down to the sailing cruisers simply stealing the wind of the hire fleet as they approached from behind. Once mixed in with the hire fleet things had become more difficult as we all took wind from each other and often the hire cruisers would pull ahead. It more or less supported my theory.

Charoit, Kathy and Imagination in line

© 2009 Dan Holmes

Approaching the Ferry Inn Imagination is in close convoy behind Kathy, with Chariot leading

This time it was different. We still caught a lot of the hire fleet. This time I feel it may be fairer to say that it was superior helmsmanship. Not that it means that many of the hire fleet aren't crewed by some skilled people, but I suspect that many are more used to racing dingies on open water, where a twitch of the tiller, sends you instantly on the new tack. There momentum may not count for much. A gentle touch of the tiller that sends the boat in a long arc that relies on that momentum just isn't in their helming vocabulary. Add to that, that many of the crews are friends who come along for the experience, rather than because they are experienced, and finally, the inevitable lack of familiarity and knowledge of how to get the best out of their boat and you probably have the reasons for being able to outpace them.

Passing May at the Ferry Inn

© 2009 Dan Holmes

On reaching Horning's Ferry Inn we manage to pull ahead of May, another hire cruiser.

At this stage we hadn't realised we'd lost a bow line overboard

Whatever the reason, getting ahead in the tight confines of the river between the New and Ferry Inns still proved difficult. When closing in to overtake they would take all your wind. I could not describe my approach as pretty or even of technical merit - anything but! It was more a case of barging through. I confess that it included making some gentle contact - rather to the annoyance of one skipper. I don't entirely blame him as I was pushing things, but often I was left out of control with neither steerage way nor wind and could do nothing to avoid it, once committed.

Imagination certainly didn't have the worst of it. At one point Chariot, who had crossed the start line behind us and still hadn't managed to overtake, was sent spinning like a top as some part of its rigging got caught by the main sheet of one of the hire craft. They took a while separating themselves and get going again. Chariot eventually passed both us and Kathy shortly before the Ferry Inn. During the struggles to get through the throng I lost track of Patsy. We were not to see her again and the official results list list her as retired.

Passing Woods Dyke

© 2009 Dan Holmes

We lost time taking May. Meanwhile Chariot and Kathy had taken advantage of the more open country and had already managed to pass Coriander yet another hire cruiser

Once we'd passed the sharp right hand bend a couple of hundred yards before reaching the Ferry Inn, things got easier. By then the boats were more spread out. Progress is also helped around the ferry the as the vegetation on the far bank opens up a little, allowing more breeze through. As we passed the Inn, once again I was swearing at the genoa as we seemed to lose momentum getting past May, yet another hire cruiser.

While we was engaged in overtaking May, Chariot and Kathy were able to take advantage of the more open river. They had both overtaken Coriander, yet another hire cruiser, before passing the last of the riverside buildings of Horning and were now 100 yards ahead of us. I noted that it was 12:50 as we passed this point.

I remember seeing Chariot only once more after it disappeared around the bend and remember thinking that it meant that they must have chosen a very different route to us, which I suspect means that they went straight down to the lower Bure mark before tackling one or more of the legs to Hickling, Ludham or South Walsham. Kathy, I don't recall seeing again, though we must have passed her at least once somewhere.

On the stern of Corriander

We followed Arthur Ransome's reincarnated "Hullabaloos" much of the way to the Ant

Traffic-wise things were now almost serene. Scenery-wise, having left all the buildings of Horning, it was the same. Noise-wise - anything but! We were getting ever closer to Coriander. I can safely say that she was the noisiest boat I have yet to meet during a Three Rivers Race, and that includes all the Motor Cruisers you pass in the course of the race. We became aware of the din as we passed Woods Dyke from 100 yards behind them. I'm no Disco fan, or was it House, Garage, Techno or Hip Hop? I can say that it was a type of music where beat and rhythm is all that counts. No tune, no variation of tempo, no variation of timbre, no syncopation. In short, no appeal. Just a stream of recycled mechanically generated percussion patterns at full volume.

At some point after Woods Dyke we switched positions in the boat and Ian took over the helm. Now I had two things to swear about. For almost another two hours we were still to suffer the appalling noise from the boat ahead of us and now Ian had to suffer me swearing at that bloody genoa every time we made a tack.

Pulling the rope hard down over the top of the cabin roof and placing the line in the jaws of the jam cleat had worn paint away and was wearing wearing out my patience. Perhaps it was me, not quite so used to handling the bigger sail. I found that you had to wait till a slightly different point in the turn to drag it round the mast and I seemed to get it wrong more often than I not. I was not in the least convinced that any extra power that the bigger sail was giving us on the longer tacks was not being lost by the more awkward nature of handling all that extra fabric. Did I tell you that I hated it? Certainly, I told Ian, on quite a number of occasions. I reckon that it was every time that we came about.

We made our way past the entrance to Ranworth Dyke at 13:55 and still the noise from Coriander was blasting. I can't recall ever experiencing such noise coming from a sailing vessel for such a prolonged period before. It's something that I only half expect from a motor cruiser. Even when we managed to overtake Coriander, which we did further on towards Ant Mouth, the noise was still blasting away. Coriander had the race number "H5". As we overtook I asked one of the younger crew members if he expected to sink and be found upside down in the water. Perhaps he hadn't looked at the back of his life jacket. Certainly, he didn't get my little joke. More likely, he couldn't hear me.

Eventually, however, thoughts began to turn to the Ant. Given that the tides and moon were near enough identical to the 2006 race, I was convinced that the appropriate course was to finish with the lower Bure mark, tackling the legs to Ludham, South Walsham and Hickling first. Certainly the first two looked as if they would be particularly quick, given that the wind should be on the beam. However, as we passed the Guard Ship, on its station at Ant Mouth, our race was very nearly over.

Go to TopThe Ant

We were about to make a turn onto a starboard tack to enter the Ant when I saw that the knots in the lanyard that held one of the shrouds to its anchorage on the cabin roof were completely undone and those on the second shroud were so loose that it too might have parted once there was any strain on the line. We were about three seconds from losing our mast. As I yelled, Ian saw the reason for my concern and held our course. That send us straight into the bank on a lee shore almost opposite the guard ship, but better that than see the mast bent like a paper clip, especially as the bill for a new one would probably cost more than I paid for the whole boat.

It took perhaps two or three minutes to retie the line and be satisfied that it was secure. During this, from the other side of the river, someone on the guard ship yelled the question, "Are you retiring?" I recall giving a very short two letter word response, though I may have added "way" to it.

Guardship at Ant Mouth

We were too busy to take a picture of the Ant Mouth Guard Ship on the way out of Horning so this one was taken on the return leg at just after six in the morning

Had I realised then, that Ian thought that the line had come loose because of the repeated slapping of the genoa against the shrouds each time we tacked, then I would have ordered a swap to the jib straight away. However, I didn't learn that until I read Ian's own notes on the race much later. I thought it was "one of those things". It had happened once before, for no reason I could deduce, before I had even hoisted the genoa. Then, I put it down to a side effect of regularly raising and lowering the mast to pass under Potter bridge. I had thought that it was the constant release and tightening of tension that had done it but, of course, much the same happens while tacking, so it had remained a mystery.

As it was, we kept the jib, in spite of all my complaints. (I think I have mentioned that I had not thought much of the genoa while tacking. I had certainly told Ian that, quite a number of times and in no uncertain manner!) My thought was that it would now come into its own. With the legs up the Ant and down Fleet Dyke having the wind on the beam and the wider river down to Thurne mouth where fewer tacks would be required, it was time to give it a proper chance. Much of the course from Thurne Mouth to Potter should also have the wind on the beam. If the genoa was going to work, it had to be tried over the next couple of hours. If a change was to be made, it would be at Potter.

With the shrouds made safe it was time to set off again. The bank opposite the guard ship was a reedy one. We were being blown hard onto it, but hard was one thing that the bank wasn't. Initial prods with the boat hook just sunk the hook in the mud. The paddles came out, but with the sails still flapping violently, the paddles proved no more effective. Finally, we tried the mud weight. I got Ian to go forward and fling it as far into the river as possible. It was a desperate measure. I half expected it to fail as well. The Bure here widens as the artificial cut, made in medieval times, that takes the river in a straight line across the top of the loop around Ward Marsh and past St Benets Abbey, is relatively deep. I feared that we'd never manage to get the mud weight far enough away from the boat, and when the line was pulled it would simply lift the mud weight, rather than bring our head into the wind. However, it worked. Ian had managed to get it far enough out into the river and it was sufficient to bring the head round so we could sail off the bank.

With the drama over, I took the recorder from my pocket once more and uttered "14:35 Ant Mouth". The one good thing about this incident was that it had completely taken my mind off Coriander. She was gone and we heard no more of her "music", I use the term loosely. Not that it meant that we didn't hear from her again - "hear" being the operative word. But that was to come much later, so you'll have to wait!

I like Ian's brief note of the next incident:

We sailed into the river Ant and only a short distance in, were rammed by a hire cruiser coming the opposite way.

Ian's writing is so much crisper and to the point than mine. I confess that I had completely forgotten about this. Perhaps because being rammed on the Ant has become, for me, much like drinking a mug of tea. It happens so often that any one mug just slips into the easily forgettable everyday stream of passing events. Any one mug of tea is so like any other that they all cease to be memorable. However, Ian goes on to describe it thus:

It tried to pass between our port side and the bank where there was no room but instead of slowing and waiting, opened its throttles and forced its way through.

So, unfortunately, just another in a stream everyday events.

I guess that the genoa was working as it should on this leg. It helped that the wind was coming from the east, so even during the first few yards up the Ant, where there is scrub on the western bank, we had that anticipated reach. The Broads Authority had spent the winter re-profiling and re-planting the bank with reed on the lower reaches of the Ant. It was all part of flood prevention work. To warn people of the new slope there were now small buoys set in the river at regular intervals.

Some skippers had been expressing concern, before the race, that this work would lead to more grounding for some of the deep draughted boats or at least early tacks, making this stretch even more tricky than usual for the larger boats. Imagination suffered none of these troubles and unless we happened to be aiming directly at one of the buoys we used the full width of the river as we had before.

I recorded that we passed the Ludham mark at 15:00. It had taken us near enough three quarters of an hour longer to reach this point than it had in 2008. Yes, we had had the delay because of the shrouds, but it was really all down to having the head wind through Horning that had made the difference.

Go to TopFleet Dyke

After being on the helm up the Ant we swapped roles again on the way back to the Bure. So it was Ian that made the turn into Fleet Dyke just nineteen minutes after we had rounded the mark at Ludham.

The prospect was for a simple reach down to the South Walsham mark, so as we had been going for just over three hours I offered to make our first mug of something hot. I chose tea and Ian coffee. I went below to light the stove and boil the kettle. Making the drink was straight forward enough. The new shelving meant that everything was conveniently stowed and easy to get at. The drinks were soon made and served in the double-walled stainless steel mugs complete with lids, of which I am proud. I pass Ian his mug and stay below in the cabin to drink mine. I rarely get the opportunity to relax in the cabin while under sail and I relish a few moments listening to the bow wave as we cut our way through the water.

Of course the trouble with mugs that are virtual vacuum flasks is that the drink will stay hot, almost too hot. The result is that you can't drink drain all their contents at once, so you put them down. Moments later a gust strikes, we heel, the mug tumbles over and in spite of the lid, a fair quantity of brown liquid spills over the cockpit sole. No problem! A quick mop down soon clears that up, but Ian was relieved of the fluids he probably needed.

3RR 2009 - Approaching the mark in Fleet Dyke

© 2009 Sue Hines

There is a surprisingly large number of boats behind us, still on the Bure. Ian is on the helm as we move swiftly down Fleet Dyke while I am below making our first hot drinks of the race

We performed what Ian describes in his notes as our first "trick manoeuvre" at 15:32 when I dropped the required token at the buoy. The surprise was that it wasn't so much a South Walsham mark as a Fleet Dyke mark. It was a long way short of the Broad.

The South Walsham leg frequently proves extremely frustrating. The trees are thick on the western side of the dyke for last couple of hundred yards before the Broad, and the Broad itself is heavily lined all round with both trees and buildings. Tackling this leg after dark or in the, often still, early morning airs, frequently means that you go nowhere very fast.

Surely, the siting of this mark this year was a mistake? In other conditions you could argue that bringing the mark out of the Broad and clear of the trees would have been helpful, but conditions were ideal for both approach and return into South Walsham. As it was, as one of the slowest boats in the race we were back at the Bure, turning out of Fleet Dyke at 15:40. While we had been 46 minutes longer than in 2008 reaching the Ludham mark, now we were only 28minutes behind our 2008 time.

Along the Bure we returned to our previous pattern of conversation, if you could call it conversation. Basically, it was me swearing at the genoa every time we tacked. To give Ian some relief from my swearing and as he'd lost a lot of the contents of his first mug of coffee, I decided that I had better make some more, so I went below again. Strangely, Ian appeared completely unaffected by my rantings about the genoa, and held his tongue, but I think he was getting the message that I wasn't entirely happy. In due course the second mug was duly passed up the the cockpit. It was all to no avail, however. In moments the contents of this mug, too, were all over the floor. As Ian reports:

I had to put the coffee down prior to tacking. The flailing sheets with a figure of eight knot on the end knocked my first coffee over and spilt most in the cockpit. Greg's drink went over due to the amount of heel first and later with the sheets. I managed to drink very little coffee in the early stages of the race when the wind was up. TIP: Don't put sugar in coffee. Your feet will stick to the cockpit floor afterwards!

Go to TopThe Thurne

At 16:34, once again, we shouted our race number to the Guard ship moored opposite Thurne Mouth. It's about 700 yards upstream from Thurne Mouth that you pass probably the best known of the wind mills on the northern Broads at the entrance to Thurne Dyke. It's become a tradition for me to photograph it as we pass by. Once again, it's splendidly lit, with a pure blue Norfolk sky beyond, though this year showing us the back of its sails, proving that it does still turn to face the wind.

Thurne Mill

It's become a tradition to take a picture of Thurne Mill as we pass it

We pass the mill just five minutes after the turn at Thurne Mouth and after all my swearing at the genoa, I'm amazed to see that we are now ahead of our 2008 time by eleven minutes. With the wind holding up well I begin to wonder if we have a chance of finishing this year. It's too early to make predictions. In 2006 the wind seemed almost as lively, but that year the night time calms fell rather early and suddenly just after eight in the evening. The only benefit was that I achieved some splendid pictures showing reflections of Thurne Mill in the water. The calm lasted right through till dawn the following morning and, combined with a hugely delayed tide, killed any chance of a finish and led to retirement.

Go to TopPotter Heigham

The next landmark, the dyke to Womack Water, was passed at 16:53 and after that the Guard Ship below Potter Bridge which we passed at 17:40. Ian reports another incident at this point that I don't recall at all:

We made steady progress until we got between the buildings at Potter, then we slowed. There were a lot of boats, many were hire cruisers, all battling for small expanses of water. As we approached the bridge we saw it covered with spectators all watching the spectacle. I had the helm and – oops – ran into the back of a big cruiser that had stopped to decide which gap to try for, it was so close I couldn't stop! The woman in the cockpit gave me a look that could have turned me to stone!

I suspect that I was too busy swearing at the genoa to notice.

Approaching Potter Heigham Bridge

© 2009 Mike Chapman

We turn into the wind to drift to the bank. The dreaded genoa is about to see its last!

At the bridge we made for the right hand bank. It was a close call as the wind was almost directly down river. Our mast dropping procedure had, of course, been practised on Hickling earlier in the month and all went smoothly. As agreed, there was no furling of the main. Ian stayed in the cockpit to be ready to support the mast and I went forward to release the forestay, and guess what? I took the opportunity to remove the genoa. Somewhere in the process I managed to slice my finger, but Ian came to the rescue producing a freshly laundered handkerchief. Unfortunately, the one he took home was well saturated in blood.

Paddling for Potter Bridge

© 2009 Mike Chapman

Paddling hard! When we reached the bridge It was a relatively easy paddle through the arch

Ian reported:

We were off, paddling for the bridge, there were boats going in both directions under the bridge with cruisers and day boats adding to the mayhem but we made it through.

It's true that It was busy around the bridge, but I'm sure that it would have been considerably busier a couple of hours earlier. Maybe we were lucky, but as I recall it, we didn't have to wait for a gap in the traffic. We just pushed off as soon as we were ready and went for it. Neither did the current cause similar problems to those that Eric and I had suffered on the return leg in 2008. Then it was a real struggle to get through the bridge on a heavy flood tide. This time passage of the bridges was relatively painless. Mind you, the sudden switch from "relaxed" sailing to frenetic paddling always does, if I dare use the expression, take the wind out of your sails! In the end we had completed the passage of both bridges and had raised the mast, hoisted the sales and were on our way again by 18:00.

Going Upstream approaching Martham

In the distance is Gemima, now overtaken by Yellow hulled Y Knot (Taken: 18:17)

Once above Potter bridge it seemed that the wind had backed slightly over the course of the afternoon. What was certain was that proceeding up the Thurne towards Martham was taking us straight into the wind. This was going to be fine on the way back and, indeed a good mix of craft was coming downstream all gull-winging. We were clear of the main run of chalets when I spotted Y Knot and Gemima coming towards us, Y Knot ahead by a couple of hundred yards, but both boats sped on past without recognising us. (But why should they?)

Working one's way up the Thurne becomes easier once beyond the shacks, sorry chalets, and this time it brought the wind a little more onto the beam. I always enjoy the approach to Martham with its line of moorings. The scene has more in common with the canal network, boats nose to tail in a line that at first seems unending. On the canals, these moorings would be on the off-side, as the side of the canal opposite the the tow path is known. Here there is no footpath at the water's edge on the other side. There is a path but it's set back from the water and hidden by a waving wall of reeds. From a boat no one can be seen walking it, and precious few people can use it, as even in still air I have never heard voices from that side of the river.

The reason I enjoy that line of boats is because many have been built by the Martham Boatbuilding and Development Company, whose yard you reach when the line eventually ends. Martham is famous for its wooden boats. It still has a large fleet of elderly cruisers and yachts, not to mention day boats and half deckers available for hire. The half deckers are well worth hiring, if you want to try day sailing. The cruisers and yachts are perhaps, in today's market, a little less easy to recommend. Not everyone will welcome the standards of the facilities implicit in craft that have been well used for over half a century. However, for those who want a holiday that that recaptures the period when they were first built or whose budget does not stretch to the latest most modern craft, then they will suit admirably. Now, many of the craft that we pass are in private ownership, perhaps some were even built for private buyers. Whatever their history, the wooden boats, almost without exception, are lovingly maintained and a joy to see.

Just before you reach the boatyard itself there are new chalets constructed and this year was the first time that the company's new workshop shed was is use. This is an unfortunate, I started by writing blot on the landscape, modern construction that could have been lifted from an out-of-town trading estate, but it is a subtle olive green, so it could be worse. While it is not a building of charm, on balance, I'd far prefer to see signs of a company reinvesting than still be seeing one with its assets gently rotting away. That was, most definitely, the case with its previous riverside premises.

For as long as I can remember they always looked as if they had been past their prime in the 1930s. Now that the new shed is in use the old buildings have been pulled down, although the site had not yet been cleared and levelled and still the odd pile of rubble could still be seen where the long rambling wooden structure had once stood. If you travel by road to the site you leave the village of Martham and follow the delightfully named Cess Road until you reach the river bank. I used to feel that the name rather suited the old building.

Go to TopHickling

Once past the boat yard we make the turn into Candle Dyke. Now the wind is on our beam and we pick up speed again through the early twists of the dyke and past the eel catcher's shed with its warning lights. In the next section we slow as the shrubbery on the bank takes the wind, but there's a rest from the need for constant adjustment of the sails and I have time to take a grand shot of River Cruiser, "Beth" as she approaches us after passing by Duck Broad.

It had been on the run up from Hickling that we had begun to see the the river cruisers for the first time during the race. Having started just twenty five minutes before us, these boats will have already completed the leg to Stracey Arms and be on the way home. Whether they had already completed the shorter legs to South Walsham or Ludham, we would never know.

Yacht Beth

The magnificent River Cruiser "Beth" is on her way back to Potter Heigham
having just passed Duck Broad when we see her at 18:58

We were now out in clear air again and it was only a few minutes later, at 19:03, when in Heigham Sound and passed the entrance to Meadow Dyke, which leads to Horsey Mere. We kept straight ahead, of course, heading though the narrow tree lined gap, Deep-Go Dyke, through to White Slea and Hickling Broad itself. Ian remembers that:

most of the journey went fine but just before Hickling the trees cover both sides of the river and it was very slow going. A GP14 that had been with us for some time really lost forward motion at this point.

As the records show only one GP14 in the race, I guess this is the point where we overtook "Wildgoose", a boat that had started fifty five minutes before us, and was later to retire. Once through the trees we our speed increased again and at the White Slea moorings we passed the guard ship at the entrance to the Broad at 19:18. Ian continues:

Hickling Broad was a delight, a steady wind and open water, but where was the guard boat and the mark? I eventually spotted it at the far end of the broad and later was able to make out the mark. Again it was my task to round the mark while Greg dropped the token in. There were a lot of tokens in the basket!

Yacht Moss Rose

Moss Rose, seen as we were on our way to drop our token in the bucket at the Hickling mark

We certainly had encountered a large number of boats during our passage up the Thurne so the number of tokens that were in the basket wrapped around the top of the buoy was not a surprise. We dropped ours in at 19:32. While crossing the Broad on the way to the mark I'd managed a photograph of yet another river cruiser, Moss Rose. She seemed to be making a good showing. However, she was yet another another boat that I later found on the retired list.

While returning to the Guard ship at White Slea, I remarked that it did not feel like the 15mph forecast. However, Ian pointed out the speed the blades were turning on the turbines of the wind farm. That certainly confirmed the wind was as forecast. We passed White Slea at 19:46 so there was no denying that it had been a quick passage of the Broad.

We passed the GP 14 again almost at the point where we had overtaken it, still struggling to make any headway. My voice recording said, "Eight o' clock: Ghosting through the trees near Meadow Dyke". It surprised me to find Wildgoose still there. I am used to making the passage through Deep-Go Dyke and I expect to find light dinghies passing me through that gap. It must be that the GP14 has a still lower mast a SeaHawk and that this time the slight ebb coming out of Hickling was enough to beat it

Go to TopThe Thurne Again

Then next reach, below Duck Broad, where the trees on the windward bank might have caused problems didn't seem to trouble us unduly and we made the turn from Candle Dyke onto the Thurne at 20:25. Now we had the wind behind us and we were soon able to gull-wing too.

Moored Boats at Martham

At 20:32 it's half an hour before sunset and we are passing the moorings below Martham

In previous years the return down the Thurne had been a crawl. As before, by this time the flood was in progress and the area just above the start of the chalets on the left bank has trees on both sides. In both 2006 and 2008, like the GP14, Imagination had found herself stationary here, while others had overtaken us. This time, with the wind on our stern we made reasonable progress. Nonetheless, the wind was dropping noticeably and I began to fear a repeat of 2006.

It was 21:02 when we moored upstream of Potter Bridges. Sunset had been a minute earlier. After the realisation, before the start, that the navigation lights would foul the genoa when passed outside the shrouds we had taken the decision to fit them here. Things were not as they should be. Our early attempts to fit them securely had meant that we had stripped them of their reflectors. This meant that the port and starboard lights would now show t considerably more than the angle specified in the regulations. With most of our cable ties now used it was impossible to do much about that. We would have to proceed with lights that were almost certainly not fully legal.

Shooting Potter Heigham Bridge

Original three images © 2009 Kevin Gingell

A composite "trick" image that I created to show the perfect bridge shooting to which I aspire

It had always been an ambition to equip Imagination to shoot the bridges and boats designed for the local waters are, of course, made for the job. Having acquired three photographs of "Silver Skipper", I managed to create a single image showing the whole procedure. Silver Skipper is a "White Boat", the popular name for what is officially the Yare and Bure One Design.

Our procedure takes a little longer than the uninterrupted glide performed by Silver Skipper, so it was 21:25 by the time we completed passage of Potter Bridges. (Incidentally, until all possible names ran out, the class association rules demanded that all White Boats be named after butterflies).

Almost immediately, after we were up and running again, we had another problem. This time with the navigation lights. It seemed that the new bulb that I had bought to replace a bulb that had disintegrated last year had blown almost immediately. Then the second spare blew immediately after it was fitted. It seemed that I had bought the wrong type of bulb. We swapped our remaining two bulbs round so they were in the port and starboard lights, and decided that we would have to rely on a torch or cabin light should be we caught by any boat overtaking us and really needed to show a light.

Below Potter Bridge at Dusk

The Herbert Woods Tower and boat sheds silhouetted in the last of the sunlight

While we were doing our best to provide navigation lights the sky was fast fading to a deep blue. Just a remnant of red was left on the western horizon. Our worries about the lights were put aside with a hail from the bank. The skipper of the Enterprise which Eric and I had encountered at Stokesby last year told us he was now retired due to damage inflicted by a bigger sail cruiser.

A few minutes later we we at the moorings opposite the Maycraft yard. Another voice cries from the gloom. This one says, "Are you the one who writes about the Three Rivers on the web?" That kind of question is unnerving, coming at you out of the dark. Somehow, I only expect people to look at the photographs, not actually to read my ramblings. It emerged that we had found yet another retiree. This was a case of mutiny, or that's how the skipper of the Flying Dutchman concerned announced it. I later learnt that he was Roger Garner and it was his first Three Rivers. Roger said that he and his daughter had asked race officials if they could continue without the without the mutineer after he had declared that he was too cold to continue. The answer was that the full crew specified on the application form had to be aboard throughout the course. So that had ended their race. A great shame!

As night approached the wind had reduced still further but we were lucky that we were broadly running with the wind. It meant that we got the best of it funnelled between the chalets on both side of the river. By 22:00 we had cleared the last of Potter Heigham's buildings. At 22:35 we were passing Thurne Mill and twelve minutes later we were back on the Bure. There were none of the dramas that we had had last year in the run down the Thurne. We were now 55 minutes ahead of our 2008 elapsed time. We had left Potter 47 minutes ahead, so we were gaining still more over our 2008 time.

Go to TopThe Lower Bure

Last year the dramas of Thurne Dyke had forced me to accept that a second pair of eyes would not just be helpful, but were needed, under the much cloudier sky and limited moonlight we were experiencing. It had put paid to my idea of a shift system after dark. The plan had been that we would each be able to get a couple periods of two hours rest, if not sleep.

This time conditions, as we slipped into the Bure, were much as they had been in 2006. I made another steaming brew, which this time did not capsize, and as Ian was happy to do the first night shift, I went below, slipped off my shoes and outer of layers of clothing slipped into my sleeping bag. The last thing I remember was recording, "23:05: Passing Tall Mill". Ian was now in command and his log records:

This is a very wide river at this point and although the wind had dropped, we were making steady progress with few tacks needed. Greg went below and was soon breathing very deeply – asleep? I passed a number of boats going the opposite way. A 'hello' was exchanged a few times with crew members I could not see, despite a half moon giving some light in the completely clear sky. Eventually I spotted the guard boat at Acle and woke Greg.

I wonder if Ian wasn't being just a little coy in his phrase "breathing very deeply". Given my performance in 2006 at the Stracey Arms. I suspect thunderous snoring may have been nearer the mark. It seems that my time asleep was remarkably short considering that I felt quite refreshed when I awoke, grabbed the voice recorder noted that it was 23:38 and that we were approaching the bridge. Of Acle, Ian records:

There were quite a few boats raising or lowering masts so we found a space and I steered us in, while Greg tied us up. Down came the mast again. I had put on my LED headlight which was excellent at illuminating exactly the thing you were looking at, a really worthwhile bit of kit. Under the bridge, up went the mast and we pushed off, and stopped. We were in the wind shadow and Greg was getting very concerned that we would drift into the bridge but after a few anxious minutes a whisper of wind had us going ahead, phew!

I, too, was using my headlight. I had thought about buying a new one with a red light facility. The theory is that, with red light, you don't harm your night vision and are not left blind once you turn it off. For the race, I find it makes little difference. Around both Potter and Acle there is either shop or street lighting around the bridges and the glow from that is bright enough for you to see adequately after turning your headlamp off. Then, as you move away, your eyes have time to readjust to the increasing darkness.

This year we managed to moor directly in front of the thatched shed that is Acle's "Bridge Stores". There is much better quay heading here, and bollards for mooring. The bank further upstream is an awkward mix lumps of concrete, mud and grass, so it can be easy to slip when jumping ashore. Last year Eric and I had been forced to us this awkward location as other boats had the prime position.

There's a worried tone to my voice when I record, "Midnight: Seem to be going backwards - after passing Acle Bridge". I now see that Google's satellite images suggest that the bridge was made a little short. The northern bank extends significantly into the river, reducing its width. The channel under the bridge is less than half the width it is a few yards either side of the bridge. After this year's experience, I have to assume that we got caught in an eddy. that loops back towards the bridge during an ebb tide. In previous years the wind had been in a different direction and took us away from the bridge as I pushed off. This time, as Ian suggests, the bridge and old workshop to the north shielded us.

From Acle to Stokesby the river follows a long sweeping curve. This takes you through more than 180° before making an almost hairpin turn in the opposite direction. Then there's another shallower curve that's almost as long. The river is relatively wide but below the bridge the embankments, set back a little from the river's channel, become ever higher. In some places there is a sufficient growth of shrubbery and trees to act as a wind break.

It was as we came round the hairpin turn that I remember seeing several sets of navigation lights about a hundred and fifty yards ahead. We were running, so we would have expected to see them moving about and swapping colour from red to green as the boats tacked towards us. However, they were just spread across the river confusingly mixing up the port and starboard lights. As Ian says, it was eerie to sweep down on the fleet and pass through them, passing jocular remarks to disembodied voices in the dark. It also boded ill for our own return up river.

We continued round the long sweeping curve towards Stokesby. Once you get clear of the lights of Acle you begin to become aware of an orange glow on the horizon in the east. This moves about in front of you as the river meanders its way across the marshes towards Great Yarmouth. Also, gradually getting closer, are the string of street lights along the A47, which help motorists find their way in mist and fog. This year, added to that, somewhere much closer ahead, was the most incredible set of lights, which certainly had not been there on my previous races. Had the fun fair at Great Yarmouth been transplanted to the middle of the marshes? We couldn't make it out. All became clear as we swung into the reach past Stokesby. It was the Ferry Inn, bathed in sodium flood lights and a mass of coloured bulbs. No wonder we need those off-shore wind farms these days!

It was 01:05 as we passed the inn at Stokesby. Moments later all the lights on the pub went out and we were plunged into the more traditional gloom.

Go to TopStracey Arms

Just thirty minutes later we rounded the buoy at Stracey. After the huge crowd of stranded boat encountered in 2006, and a handful of moored cruisers in 2008, it was strange this time not to see a single moored boat other than the guard ship. Although a short time earlier we had passed another competitor working its way upstream.

Making the mark at Stracey at slack water has always been the key to my strategy for completing the race. It may matter less to the boats with larger rigs, such as the speedy Thames A-Raters and Norfolk Punts. They will be completing the course in a single tide and will have to battle against it somewhere. Their concern maybe to use the best wind of the day in the parts of the course where trees or buildings interrupt progress. Similarly, the huge river cruisers may be more concerned about headroom and the strength of the tide rushing through the narrow arch at Potter.

I hadn't even worried about being a couple of hours early in 2008, as I had figured that given reasonable winds the wide, generally open, waters of the lower Bure would give me a far better chance of making progress than being tucked up amongst the trees and buildings of Fleet Dyke, Potter or the route through Candle dyke to Hickling.

In 2006 I had reached Stracey thirteen hours and twenty two minutes after my start, but that year I had skipped the South Walsham leg on the way out. In 2008, following the same course as this year, it had taken fourteen hours and two minutes. This year we rounded the mark at 01:35, thirteen hours and twenty minutes after the start. This meant that we were now 42 minutes ahead of the 2008 time, so we had lost a little of our gain compared with earlier in the race. This was, however, not a worry, for it seemed that for the first time we had the timing exactly right.

In 2008 it had been a huge struggle to make any progress sometimes actually falling back if we failed to make a perfect tack in the light breeze. Then, I had been pleased that we were making any progress at all, for it meant that we had reached the mark earlier than planned. I had been relying on making only reasonable progress from the mark at slack water to achieve a finish. This time there was no struggle upstream after the turn at Stracey. Although having to make some tacks we made splendid progress all the way back to Stokesby. The breeze was much the same strength as it had been the previous year but this time movement was not only easy through the water, but we were making progress over the land as well.

I think this is the time when I took a second nap. To be honest, I don't remember it. When I got round to working on my report I asked, "Did I have another nap?" and Ian's emphatic response was:

Yes, Your words were "Well, if you are not going to have a rest I will." I have no idea where we were. I remember sailing along in complete silence (except for regular, heavy, breathing noises from the cabin), seeing ghostly nav lights appear, a disembodied voice with a greeting as the boats passed. One was a Wayfarer that was really motoring which surprised me as I didn't think such speed was possible in the light breeze.

I think that Ian may be confusing my two sleeps, with the incidents he refers to taking place during my first nap between Thurne Mouth and Acle. I think I recall him telling me of them after he woke me when Acle came into view.

Where ever it was that I took that nap I was awake when we reached and glided past the guard ship at Stokesby at 02:46. I added to my log "Feels flat calm but moving nicely enough". Compare that with 2008. We didn't reach Stokesby till 04:30, were then stuck downstream of the village for a full hour, and once able to move took a full half hour to make it past the village. By comparison we were were storming along.

By this time the glow in the east was changing colour. No longer was the sky over Great Yarmouth an orange blister over a jet black horizon. Now the sky above was lightening and the orange was slowly dissipating into what might have been a pre-dawn pink. Ian commented later:

I am used to working nights so am used to being awake through the night but one thing that did surprise me was how short the night actually was. Thank goodness they don't run the race on 21st December.

Before Dawn downstream of Acle

Mist clings to the river as we pass Acle Dyke. Ian's right about a short night.

With a clear sky there's enough light for a photograph a full half an hour before sun rise

In spite of the fact that, at Stokesby, we were about two and three quarter hours ahead of my 2008 time, in my case at least, confidence was still not high. I recall being perfectly happy with progress in 2008 as far as the return to Stokesby and, in spite of the hold up, at Acle still remaining hopeful of a finish, expecting the wind to return as the sun rose higher in the sky and heated the land.

This year, recognising that there was no certainty of the return of the wind, it seemed all too plausible for the little wind that there was, to die. When we reached the trees at Horning, any gain could still so easily be lost. All this was further reinforced in my mind by the many many tales of sitting for a hour or more within sight of the finishing line. Indeed, it turned out that this year one Wayfarer reported taking six and a half hours to get from the Waterworks bend in Horning to the finish line.

Upstream of Acle Bridge

Just before five in the morning and there was a mighty rumbling from across the water

The transit of Acle Bridge was complete at 04:53. Since Stokesby we had lost four minutes of that gain over 2008. With the last bridge now passed, it should be a straight run home and we had a little over seven hours in which to do it. However, the tide was soon to turn against us. There was no certainty that the wind would get any stronger and there were the trees in Horning which would also be plotting to defeat us.

As we cast off from the bank at Acle, who should we realise was ahead of us but the dreaded Coriander. No longer was she acting the mobile discotheque, but still she was not a quiet ship. From fifty yards off your could hear a mighty snoring that, surely, outdid my efforts at Stracey in 2006. As we got closer we realised that the regular mighty rumblings emanated from a sleeping bag stretched out on the port bench in the cockpit. It had been a chilly night. The cockpit could not have been a berth of choice. Had this man been carried out here while he slumbered? Had the crew had considered, then relented at the last minute, from heaving their colleague overboard? Was the helmsman the hero of the hour or being punished for some offence that obliged him to stay on watch while the others slept? These were all questions that remain unanswered.

We attempted a cheery wave to Coriander as we passed. This we achieved as the river turned north. By now, the sun was clear over the horizon and the sky was pure blue but the tide was on the turn and, if anything, the breeze was dropping. Perhaps it only seemed so as we passed another stretch of trees atop the embankment to our left. With a glorious golden light, I took the opportunity to snap a heron, fishing for its breakfast.

Those used to encountering herons on the canals will find that those on the Broads appear to behave rather differently. When chugging your way along the cut, herons ahead of you always seem to take flight, go ahead fifty yards and then alight on the bank again, repeating this several times over until, at last, they appear to have reached the edge of their territory. Then when they take off they loop back behind you going all the way back to their starting position. This doesn't seem to happen on the Broads. Here the birds seem either ignore you or immediately take flight and disappear to some completely new perch a long way off.

Heron on River Bank

Up at 05:10 and fishing for breakfast!

Go to TopUpper Bure

As in 2008, it seemed a long haul up to Thurne Mouth. By now I was constantly turning my wrist to examine my watch. The slower it seemed to go the more aware was I of the previous year's failure to finish. It was 06:29 as we passed the Guard Ship. We were, give or take a minute, maintaining our margin over our 2008 time, at two hours forty three minutes ahead. After a photograph of the guard ship I turned to look up the Thurne and was surprised to see quite so many craft pouring down from Hickling towards us.

It seemed to me that they had got their route badly wrong and all of them must have got severely hung up in the awkward waters though Potter and beyond. As one of the slowest boats in the race to be even a few hundred yards ahead at this point was a good sign indeed. Just about everything behind us would not only have a better handicap but also will have started ahead of us.

Guardship at Thurne Mouth

From the closed curtains one assumes that the most on board the Thurne Mouth Guard Ship are asleep. However, as we pass at 06:30, there's someone in the cockpit to take our number

Whether the wind truly picked up after Thurne Mouth or it is is the ebb from the Thurne gushing into the Bure that has always caused such a slow passage between Acle and the Thurne, I do not know. However, I can say that we reached the Ant Mouth Guard Ship at 07:02, just thirty three minutes after passing Thurne Mouth. It may be that this leg is only about two thirds the length of that between Acle and Thurne Mouth but the longer leg took and hour and thirty six minutes, some three times longer, instead of half as long again that might have been expected. I think I may have to reappraise my choice of route in future years!

Now we were about to plunge into the trees. Given what had happened last year I could only cross my fingers. In fact, things went remarkably well. We just kept going, passing Ranworth Dyke at 07:30, then just before the point where Eric and I had abandoned our race in 2008 we ran aground. I had shaved too much off the corner where there had once been overhanging trees. The keel had lifted over a submerged root. We had enough forward momentum to clear that one, the keel then dropped but we hadn't enough speed left to get it over the second. In a SeaHawk this is no drama. A grab of the handle set into the threshold of the cabin and a good pull is all that's needed. The keel weighs some seventy pounds but lifts easily enough and we are on our way again, reaching Cockshoot Dyke at 08:15.

Go to TopHorning

By now, spirits were high. If the trees had not stopped us, it was certain that the buildings of Horning would not. It was 08:19 as we pass the first of them then we sweep past Woods Dyke and the Ferry Inn. By now there is beginning to be some real warmth from the sun and I have shed my anorak. Further into the village I spot a photographer. I guess this is Craig Slawson, he who runs and its marvellous Boats of the Norfolk Broads database, so, grinning broadly, present a thumbs up to the camera.

The last half mile to the finish

© 2009 Craig Slawson

Half a mile from the finishing line and I present a thumbs up to Craig Slawson's camera

It's turning into a truly glorious morning. The tiredness of previous years is not there, though whether that was the benefit of those couple of quick naps cannot say. Finally the club house and finishing line comes into view. At least, I assume the finishing line comes into view, for although I know where the start line is, the paperwork that is sent by the club to those invited to take part in the race fails to mention where the finishing line is.

Approaching the finish line

The finish is in sight and Camellia is close enough ahead to mean that we will have beaten her

In the last few minutes of the race we approach the stern of Camellia. We've no chance of overtaking but that doesn't matter. Simply being so close behind means we will have beaten her. Finally, we turn the bend in front of the club house. I time our finish as 09:03. There's no gun, horn or other indication that we've crossed the line, so we carry on up the river for a good few yards until Ian is certain that we have cleared the start line. We agree that by then we must have made it, turn and head for the shore.

HSC Club House from the water

Have we crossed the line? There's no indication of where it is or whether we have crossed it

Incredibly, the space outside the Swan Inn that we vacated almost twenty four hours earlier is again vacant. Not only that, immediately astern are four river cruisers, just as there had been before. After tying up and before the sails are properly stowed, Ian insists on a commemorative photograph. After that, we complete the card that indicates when we believe we have passed the various marks, close up the boat and head for the club house to hand in the race card.

Greg before going for the Finishers Breakfast

© 2009 Ian Ruston

Done it! Is this the first SeaHawk finish - or has someone achieved it in an earlier race?

It's strange but true. I used to think the talk of staggering about like a drunken sailor on stepping ashore after twenty four hours on a boat was an old wive's tale, but you really do. After previous races I put the peculiar gait in those first few minutes down to being tired and despondent. However, this year I had managed two brief periods of sleep and was, most definitely, not despondent, yet I still managed to lurch unpredictably for the first few yards. This time, though, I can report one new feature to my demeanour. While the gait may have returned to normal within a few yards a grin like a Cheshire Cat was retained for an hour and a half after landing!

Beakfast at the HSC CLub House

With the famous Finishers Breakfast consumed, we're still both grinning like Cheshire Cats

Once in the club house we handed in the card and received a finishers plaque and numbered ticket. The latter is handed to the volunteers at the kitchen hatch. They then prepare you the famous Finisher's Breakfast, a feast which I should think is more than especially welcome by those who have spent many hours in an open boat.

While we waited for breakfast I took the opportunity to have a word with the young man at the Race Control desk to whom I had spoken when registering. He called over another older chap, who was introduced as the Handicapping Officer. I related how, inexplicably, last year the handicap for my SeaHawk had been uprated and I was now reckoned to be as fast as a Prelude and faster than a Sailfish. I explained that, in reality, a SeaHawk is slower than a Sailfish.

He listened but his concern was that I seemed to be asking for a handicap that was slower than a Sailfish and a Sailfish had the slowest rating that they allowed in the race. Further, it was too late for the handicaps to be adjusted. I was disappointed at that, because I had made my claim for before the race started, however, I explained my real concern was less about some attempt to have my placing adjusted but simply the justification for the uprating. But this wasn't the time for all this, and I, and probably everyone else, was tired, so I let the matter rest.

Soon breakfast was served, a large plate with all the goodies that one would expect in a good traditional English breakfast. It was wonderful to be sitting down at a table eating a regular meal. Ian drew my attention to the club's coffee. "This", he exclaimed, "is so much better than yours." I think I must have looked crest fallen. He went on, "Look, it doesn't fall over". He was right! Everything was incredibly upright. I think I was getting my land legs back.

I should explain that the finishers plaque was a surprise. It came in a shade of purple that matched the 2009 race shirts. I'm not sure that I ever considered whether the club might supply an official memento of our great achievement. The reason that I had always ordered race shirts for my crew and I was to provide a souvenir of the event. It hadn't occurred to me that there might be something more.

Ian in the cockpit of ImaginationMy boat keys, phone and voice recorder - and the small plastic plaque that attests to our completion of the Three Rivers Race 2009

Once breakfast was over, I dispatched a number of text messages to everyone and anyone I could think of who might have the vaguest interest in our mighty achievement, then we sat there for a spell, talking over the race. It wasn't long before we realised that everyone from the club was was clearing up and preparing to leave. It was time for us to go too.

Then It was back to the boat. I piled Ian's gear on the bank while he fetched his car, then I fetched mine. We load both our cars. Ian then sets off for home for what he reports was "a really welcome shower and four hours of much needed sleep". Meanwhile, I shifted the now empty Imagination to the other side of the river and then drove home myself.

Go to TopThe Results

After a couple of days of feeling like a winner, the provisional results are posted on the Horning Sailing Club web site. Imagination is placed 93rd of 110 finishers. I'm not in the least worried by such a low placing as I dismiss placing as an idiosyncrasy of the handicap. However, there is a sense of achievement in seeing that the impressive Chariot is placed 104, even though that boat crossed the finishing line one hour and 30 seconds ahead of us. It made me wonder if it had got caught up in more pirouettes further round the course. More likely, I feel, is that her skipper chose a different route round the course.

However, that was not the end of the analysis. On 17 June the race organisers posted out the final results. These arrived at the Chapman household the following day. The first thing I noticed was that Imagination has gone up a place from 93 to 92. This called for some further investigation. It seems that Mandi, a half decker with a handicap of 20, had been dropped from 89 position to 94. The provisional results only show the "corrected" time, so you cannot see whether her actual elapsed time was originally mis-recorded, or whether the revised position was the result of handicap miscalculation.

First home from our own start had been Gemima, crossing the line in 19 hours, 12 minutes and 8 seconds. She must have been handled well in the later stages, because Y Knot had been well ahead when we spotted them both coming down the Thurne on their return from Hickling. At the line Y Knot was just 10 seconds behind Gemima. However, her handicap left Gemima placed 73rd with Y Knot ahead at 68th, which must have been some consolation.

There were some intriguing changes that emerged in the revised list. Kathy, one of the Sailfish, finished in 19:29:52. However, her adjusted time had changed from the provisional results and her placing had dropped by seven to 64. Bobkat, Kathy's rival, finished in 19:48:34 in an unchanged 70th place. What can have happened to cause Kathy's 23 minute drop in corrected time? One might be tempted to say some penalty was applied, yet the penalty column on the final results indicated none had been applied to any boat. It was certainly curious.

Chariot had returned between the two Sailfish, with a finish time of 19:47:10 and we were, of course, recorded as having made it back in 20:47:40. It was a surprise to me that we were not the last from our start to make it. An unnamed boat with the sail number 318 and a handicap of 7 managed to cross the line with just nine minutes to spare. The only other boats to followed us on elapsed time were Camelia, the hire craft from the start before us, Joy, a half decker with a handicap of 22, and the hullabaloos in Coriander. I missed their arrival so can't say if they had finally quietened down.

Patsy, the Hawk 20, Electric Excalibur and Water Bunting all retired. More intriguing still was the fate of Cotehele, the Cornish Shrimper. Originally marked as retired, the final results give her a unique "Disqualified". I wonder if she befell the same fate as the Flying Dutchman and suffered a mutiny, or lost a crew member for some other reason?

Go to TopReflections

Last year's report finished with Ian's thoughts on the prospects for 2009. I had quoted him as saying:

It will take a mighty and consistent breeze for us to make it in 2009. It's a bad omen that the tides will be near identical to those for the 2006 race. All we can do is live in hope of those winds. And maybe we do have to consider a dash for the Lower Bure Mark in time for the early tide?

I'm not sure whether only the first sentence should be attributable to him for the rest is exactly how I felt. In fact, the first sentence could have been my words as well. This year we got our mighty and constant breeze, although I don't think Ian recognised it for what it was. My experience may be limited, but from what I read it is true to say that normally it doesn't blow for either as hard or as long as it did this year. The evidence for this is the fact that 2009 provided the record for the fastest finish not just for the first boat home, a Thames A Rater completing the course of 6 hours 57 minutes, but the first eight. All achieved finishes within the previous record time of around 8 hours and a quarter hours.

I would also count it as a constant breeze. Yes, many boats were trapped in Horning on their return, but the choke point cleared between 03:00 and 04:00 as the wind picked up. But if you need proof of the constancy of the breeze it's in another record. 2009 was the first time ever that there was a 100% finish for all those not forced to retire.

Choosing to use the same route, as that originally planned for 2006, also appears to have vindicated the 2006 decision. Then, I was relying on a good breeze. 2009 proves that a finish could have been possible. The idea of the same moon and tides being a bad omen was clearly misplaced. As for considering a dash for the Lower Bure mark in the period of the day when the winds are strongest, well that may have to wait for 2010 or further in the future when the tides are at radically different times.

So what of 2010? Ian's talk over breakfast was of him entering Deux Chevaux. After my conversation with the Handicap Officer I poo-pooed this thought. As I write this, a few months later than I had planned, I asked him about his current thoughts:

DC is a bit small for the race and I intend to get a bigger boat sometime but the RCD says I can't sell DC until its 5 years old so until I/we have a bigger faster boat (I fancy that Hawk 20) 2010 will just have to be a SeaHawk I suppose - er - unless you are getting something a bit faster - with a cabin, don't fancy a punt!

Then, reading that I had made a mental note that "this should be the last time I allow crew to make their own catering arrangements and that next time food and drink should be planned jointly", he said:

Good idea and I seem to remember you saying something weeks before, but we didn't get round to sorting out - Next time!

So it looks like Ian will be with me in 2010 but I must expect to be looking for new crew in 2011. I can't imagine we'll get that record breaking 2009 wind two years running. He added a couple of suggestions too.

Cup holders required!

Good idea!

Get a bigger genoa!

It's funny how some people ask for trouble!

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