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Three Rivers Race: an introduction

OGA member, Daniel Stoker recalls that he first learned about the Three Rivers Race (3RR) in 2019 when asked by fellow member of Wivenhoe Sailing Club, Rob Maloney, local boatbuilder, if he would be up for crewing on his Wivenhoe One Design (WOD), ‘Elise’. She’s a 14ft clinker dinghy designed and built in 1935 for sailing from Wivenhoe on the River Colne. 

A quick bit of research indicated the 3RR was Europe’s toughest inland sailing race, covering close to 50 nautical miles non-stop in 24hrs, with four marks placed across three rivers of the Norfolk Broads (Ant, Bure & Thurne). These can be rounded in any order and you must pass under three bridges (one of them twice) with the rig down and paddles out. ‘Sure, why not?’ was my reply. A few weeks later on Saturday 1 June, 2019 we set off from Horning into the unknown in a fleet over 100 boats. The wind was very light but get your planning right and you can have the tide helping you most of the way round the course. We managed to tick off the two ‘legs’ in front of Ludham Bridge on the River Ant and in South Walsham Broad. On reaching Acle Bridge on the Bure, time had to be devoted to lowering and raising the mast in order to continue downstream. This is something WODs aren’t really set up for and meant the tide started to turn against us. We closed in on the lower turning mark outside the Stracey Arms windpump but within 100 yards of the mark, we entered the wind shadow of a line of trees that stopped us in our tracks.

Despite our best efforts and that of around 30 other boats over the next couple of hours, not one of us could make any further progress past the trees against the incoming tide. Waiting for it to turn again would have meant finishing beyond the 24 hour time limit. Having realised our fate, we all set off on a slow sail and eventual paddle (after the wind gave up) back to Horning. In all we spent 18 hours in the WOD but despite defeat it was still an adventure. Were we to do it again, we agreed that we’d need a bigger boat and made a booking for a Broads Hire Cruiser the following year. Sadly, 2020 had other plans for everyone.

Fast forward a couple of years after responding to an eBay listing during lockdown, my father and I became the proud owners of ‘Catsnip’. She’s a 17ft production catboat built by Com-Pac Yachts in the USA, shipped out new in 2006 to her first owner here in the UK. Speaking to the builders recently they believe she is still the only ‘Sun Cat’ to make it across the Pond, albeit in a shipping container. A season on the Cleddau followed where we learned to sail a gaff rig for the first time and began to discover the abilities and character of ‘Catsnip’. Trips included a circumnavigation of Skomer and a night at anchor near Dale. The following season, ‘Catsnip’ made the journey east to my home waters on the River Colne. After discovering she was already on the OGA Boat Register (#2929), I promptly joined the OGA with the ambition of making it along to some East Coast OGA events.

Despite being the only one of her kind in the UK, hundreds have been built in the US. There is an active and helpful owners’ group online. It was in there that someone shared a plan of the boat, showing the heights of the mast and gaff when raised. More importantly for me, the height of the mast when lowered down to the waterline is 5ft 6ins. A quick check of ‘clearance under Potter Heigham bridge’ followed with the answer 6ft 6ins. ‘So in theory she’d fit . . . ‘, I thought to myself, wondering if she could actually be suitable for taking part in the 3RR. ‘Better to have started and not finish, than to not enter at all’ I remembered. With that we decided to put an entry in for the 2023 Three Rivers Race.

Words: Daniel Stoker, OGA East Coast Member

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