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Three Rivers Race with ‘Catsnip’: 2023 – 2024

East Coast OGA Member, Dan Stoker reports on taking part in this 24-hour race on the Norfolk Broads.

I first took part in the Three Rivers Race (3RR) in 2019, crewing on the Wivenhoe One Design, ‘Elise’ with fellow member of Wivenhoe Sailing Club, Rob Maloney. During lockdown my father and I became the proud owners of ‘Catsnip’. ‘Better to have started and not finish, than to not enter at all’ I remembered from 2019 and we entered ‘Catsnip’ for the 2023 Three Rivers Race (3RR).

Arriving in Horning a day early, a quick shakedown sail confirmed we could indeed sail on the Broads despite the lack of a jib. However, there was still the nervousness of whether we’d actually fit under Potter Heigham Bridge. With a crew of three we set off in the ‘production cruiser’ class, a mix of trailer sailors and other cruisers. There was sufficient wind, a northeasterly F3 meaning we managed both legs on the way down from Horning, as we had done in 2019. So far, so good. Arriving at Acle Bridge we quickly dropped sail and lowered the mast, then it was canoe paddles out and off under the bridge. A moment later, up with the mast and sail we carried on our way. This was all completed without needing to moor up. It was encouraging to pass six or seven boats in the process, more than we’d managed throughout the day. Another hour or so and we made it round the mark at Stracey and could begin the long beat north to Potter Heigham. 

Despite being helped by the flood tide it took some time. Thousands of tacks later it was dark when we reached the bridge. There was only one way to find out if we’d fit. We dropped the mast, lined ourselves up and paddled nervously at the centre of the arch. It looked close, and it was close, but we made it through with maybe three inches to spare. The night sail continued towards across Hickling Broad reaching the turning mark in the early hours under moonlight with the booming of bitterns. Here you’re required to drop a token into a basket attached to the buoy, proving you made it. With all the marks now ticked off we began the long slow sail back to Horning. Helped by the ebb and eventually assisted by the new flood, we crossed the finish line after 22 hours and 21 minutes. After enjoying the infamous competitors’ breakfast cooked throughout the night by Horning Sailing Club volunteers, we went for a much needed nap.

Success on our first attempt with ‘Catsnip’ and just the general sense of achievement and adventure meant that we would have to come back for the June 2024 edition. With different tides and a very windy forecast, northerly F5 and gusting even more with the expectation of an all night race, we needed new strategies. There was Plan A, B, C and even D. Starting off reefed and with twice as many in our class as 2023, off we went again. This time we ignored the legs and headed straight for the lower Bure mark, making good time despite a rather epic wipeout following a gybe that pinned us in the reeds for a short while. Progress north was a bit more of a challenge. Short tacking a reefed Catboat in 30kt gusts on a river that is less than 40ft wide in many places is not easy. The focus was more on making enough way across the river to get through the next tack than it was to try and sail as close as possible to the wind with the risk getting caught in irons. There were a few tricky moments when faster and larger overtaking boats failed to account for our limited ability to manoeuvre in the narrow stretches. This cost us time as we were forced to take avoiding action, sometimes resulting in visits for both boats to the reeds. We continued north, helped by the tide and made it to Potter Heigham in the early evening, knowing that we’d fit under the bridge this time. We sailed and paddled through the bridges to Hickling Broad. This resembled more of a raging sea than an inland broad, reminding us of the OGA60 Jubilee Race in August 2023.

After rounding the mark, a forecast of wind through the night and just two legs to do, excitement was high. We were maybe 3-4 hours ahead of our 2023 race but the 3RR wasn’t done with us yet. Despite the forecast the wind changed its mind and fizzled out just as we made our way down to South Walsham. It then left us on the edge of despair as we endured a three hours up and 10 minutes back leg on the River Ant to the final mark. With the prospect of an early return dashed and real threat of not even finishing, we were grateful that when dawn turned to day the wind picked up just enough. We began to make progress on the final stretch to the finish, crossing the line amid cheers fro, everyone at Horning Sailing Club in 21 hours 53 minutes, 20 minutes ahead of our previous time. It turns out only one other made it back after us. With all the wind on Saturday over half the 120 starters had already retired. For ‘Catsnip’, it was another 3RR in the bag and another adventure for her weary crew. Time for that breakfast.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers at Horning Sailing Club who make the Three Rivers Race possible every year. If you think you might have a suitable boat for the race or might be able to modify your boat to make it suitable, then go on . . . give it go! Find out more at the 3RR event website

Daniel Stoker, OGA Member, East Coast Area