My Timpenny 670 yacht and the Norfolk Broads 3 Rivers Race
(originally written in 2003 with minor updates in 2020)
I have included links to some other sites with information about the Norfolk Broads in the UK for those of you who may be interested. It may be useful to look at these sites before reading the article to get a feel for the Norfolk Broads, the sailing conditions and the traditional (and extreme) boats involved.
I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank members of the Australian Timpenny Association for the advice and guidance they kindly gave to me which led to me buying my Timpenny in the first place, one of the best decisions I've made, and subsequently helped me to get her into race worthy condition.
A semi photographic guide to the Norfolk Broads
Another Norfolk Broads site with some superb detailed maps
I live in Norfolk in England and, as far as I am aware, was at the time the only UK member of the Australian Timpenny yacht Association. I first learnt to sail on the Norfolk Broads as a boy over 30 years ago [now over 50 years!] and after living in various locations around England, mainly based around living near the sea and good sailing locations, moved back to the area with my young family about 10 years ago and became reacquainted with the joys and peculiarities of Broads sailing.
Those of you who are fans of the Arthur Ransome stories may have read some of the sequels to Swallows and Amazons including The Coot Club and The Big Six which are both based on the Norfolk Broads. The area is described extremely accurately in the books and both the locations and the traditional Broads sailing cruisers are still easily recognisable today. The annual 3 Rivers Race which is the focus of my article actually starts from Horning village, the home of Ransome's Norfolk characters, and in fact the sailing club which organises the 3 Rivers Race is the very one where the twins in the book, nicknamed Port & Starboard, raced their dinghy Flash with their father.
The Norfolk Broads themselves consist of about 125 miles of navigable Rivers and shallow lakes (called Broads) formed from flooded medieval peat diggings and which today are a National Park and designated Site of Special Scientific Interest as they form a wetland habitat unique in Europe. With the picturesque landscape dotted with the ruins of Windmills (or more accurately Windpumps) formerly used to drain the marshland it is also a tourist destination with a large number of hired motor cruisers plying the waters in the hands of novice mariners (making for frequent interesting encounters!).
When I first moved back to Norfolk in 1998, having spent many years sailing on the sea, my first priority was to buy a small sailing cruiser so I could rediscover the joys of Broads sailing. Broads sailing it has to be said is an entirely different matter from sea sailing and rapid tacking and dexterous close quarters boat handling are the order of the day. The first boat I bought was a little 17ft Seahawk, 2 berth, centreplate cruiser. It was a delightful little boat to sail and easily manageable in the confines of the Broads. However, it was at this point that a friend of mine mentioned the annual 3 Rivers Race which was to become something of an obsession with me and was eventually directly responsible for me becoming the proud owner of a Timpenny 670.
The 3 Rivers Race itself is the premier event in the Broads Sailing Calendar and has been run annually for the last 43 years. It consists of a race over about 50 miles (much more through the water with the large amount of tacking involved) covering 3 different Broadland Rivers, The Bure, The Ant and The Thurne. It requires you to lower and raise the mast 4 times to negotiate bridges and you can tackle the course in any order you like so as to make best use of wind and tide as long as you pass through all the checkpoints and start and finish at Horning Sailing Club. The snag is you have to complete the race within a 24 hour time limit to be classed as a finisher. Any mono-hulled sailing craft between 14 feet and 40 feet is eligible to enter (although the race is by invitation and single handing is not allowed) and the entries range from Enterprise dinghies to production grp cruisers like the Timpenny.
However, the race results tend to be dominated by 3 extreme types of dinghies and the Traditional Broads River Cruisers some of which are close to 100 years old. The extreme dinghies include two Norfolk specials, the Norfolk Punt which is a development class originally based on a traditional Norfolk duck shooting Gun Punt but now developed into a large high aspect ratio fully battened sail double ended trapeze dinghy, and the Slipstream class a large dinghy with 3 crew and twin trapezes. In recent years a couple of Thames A-Raters have also been competing. The remarkable A-Raters are even more extreme than the Norfolk classes and have been developed over the last 100 years for sailing in the tree lined reaches of the River Thames near London. At 26 feet long and weighing 750lbs they carry an enormous amount of fully battened sail on towering high- tech carbon masts and develop a phenomenal amount of power in the merest breeze.
Thames 'A' Raters
At the other end of the scale are the Traditional Broads sailing cruisers. Most of them of wooden construction, with shallow long keels, low freeboard, intimidating bowsprits, large amounts of canvas usually with a gaff rig and fitted with topsails and a lead counterbalanced mast mounted in a tabernacle for fast passage through the bridges. Evolved over 100 years to be perfect for the average Broadland conditions.
I remember as a youngster some of the older boys at school saying they had crewed in the 3 Rivers Race and been suitably impressed but had not thought of actually taking part myself. However, on purchasing my Seahawk one of my sailing friends came out to sail with me and somehow the topic came round to the 3 Rivers Race and why didn't we try it? Before I knew it I was seeking out the organisers of the race and obtained one of the coveted invitations to participate. As it happens it turned out to be the 40th anniversary of the Race that year and they had a full turnout of 140 yachts competing. Somewhat intimidating especially on the very narrow stretch of river at the start of the race. When a 35 foot river cruiser with a 10 foot bowsprit is bearing down on you with hundreds of square feet of canvas set you soon discover discretion is the better part of valour!
The river gets a bit crowded at the start through Horning Street - Traditional Broads sailing cruisers!
Unfortunately the day of the race dawned hot and nearly windless. After 15 hours of frustratingly slow sailing we finally retired as we drifted backwards on the tide at 3 o'clock in the morning when it was obvious we couldn't complete the course within the time limit. Oh well, next year!
The next year, again in the Seahawk, it couldn't have been more different. It was blowing a full gale and we went out under sensible storm mainsail and jib. We were flying along and were 4 hours ahead of our schedule after only 4 hours! Finishing well within the time limit was a dead certainty and, as we were travelling at hull speed most of the time, we might even get a good placing on handicap!
Unfortunately Sods law kicked in and for the first time in the 41 year history of the race the organisers decided to abandon the race! Many (over canvassed) boats had been damaged, breaking bowsprits and masts, boats were broaching out of control and hitting river banks. One large traditional broads cruiser even had his bows pushed under water by the wind pressure in his sails as a large gust hit while running downwind and actually sailed straight to the bottom of the River and had to be salvaged later! The worry was that if this continued on these confined waters in the dark throughout the night someone would get seriously hurt.
The Race wasn't going to beat me, I had to finish at least once, even if I decide never to do it again afterwards. I decided to buy a bigger, hopefully faster, boat for the next year and an elderly Jaguar(Catalina) 22 (known in Australia as the Boomera 22?) in need of renovation was purchased. Unfortunately without sailing it first as the owner was abroad and I bought it through his broker to replace my faithful Seahawk. It had lovely accommodation with a lifting cabin top for added headroom and I thought I might even tempt the family to sleep aboard occasionally. It did need lots of work though and unfortunately because of this I had still only sailed it a couple of times on the Broad (lake) and never in the confines of the river by the time race day approached.
On the ferry trip to the race start, apart from still screwing fittings onto the boat, we found the handling in the river left a lot to be desired. The 150% genoa was not suited to these conditions and while she was excellent once going on a reach or a run she was terrible tacking in light winds especially as until way built up her bow kept bearing off uncontrollably with no response to the rudder at all. Race day dawned and, youve guessed it, light winds were the order of the day again. We deliberately held back at the start as we couldn't manoeuvre easily or confidently in the crowds of other boats. Even with the Genoa half reefed despite the light winds, to make handling quicker at the race start, tacking was a nightmare. We only lasted 9 hours this time before my crew had totally had enough and we retired again. I was deeply depressed having had such high hopes of the Jaguar and having put so much time, and money, into renovating her. I vowed in future I would never buy a boat without actually sailing it first. The Jaguar immediately went up for sale and I decided to get another sweet handling little Seahawk.
My Jaguar 22 in the 3 Rivers Race
The large genoa was not conducive to fast tacking in narrow confines
However, it was here that fate took a hand. I searched the internet for another Seahawk to buy and located an advert. The example in question looked pretty tatty but the advert above it happened to be for a Timpenny 670 which caught my eye. I'd seen some details of the Timpenny a couple of years before when buying my first Seahawk but discounted it as I didn't personally know the class, they are pretty rare in England, and the one paragraph summary of the class in an English yachting magazine showed it with a dagger board and mentioned sparkling downwind performance but poor windward ability, something you cant live with when constantly beating up narrow rivers on the Broads. However, the Timpenny fell within my budget and seemed to have everything else I was looking for - large mainsail, small self tacking jib, dinghy like handling, 4 berths. Could I live with a 4ft dagger board on the shallow broads, and what about that windward performance? I resolved to find out more and came across the Australian Timpenny Association web site. Some enquiries soon resulted in very helpful advice being kindly given by the Australian members which allayed all of my fears and they also advised me that some boats had centreboards which would be better for the Broads as they could kick back without damage if encountering the thick Norfolk mud.
My heart was now rapidly taking over from my head. I phoned the brokers and got further details, could I go for a test sail. Sorry the boat is ashore and owner lives away. His trailer was recently totally refurbished so he doesn't want to get it in salt water. If you want to sail it you will have to pay £200 to have it craned in and out. £200 for a sail was too steep for me but I decided to make the 200+ mile round trip to view it anyway. As I drove into the Brokers yard I could see the Timpenny on a trailer in front of me. I went to the office to ask to view it and, horror, a potential buyer had got the keys and was already viewing it. I waited patiently, heart in my mouth, until the potential buyer decided he wanted to look at something bigger and then eagerly stepped aboard. She needed tidying up but mostly cosmetic things and she seemed sound and better built than the Jaguar. I noted that most of the owner improvements that the Jaguar owners club recommended to improve the integrity of the Jaguar had already been incorporated in the design of the Timpenny and that there was very little evidence of stress cracking of the fibreglass etc. I looked at the keel and lo and behold, a centreboard Perfect!
I know I had vowed never to buy a boat without sailing it again but instinct just told me that everything about the Timpenny was right. There and then I went back to the Brokers office and made an offer, he said he'd let me know during the week. I was impatient, I asked if he could phone the owner now while I waited and waived my cheque book under his nose. He phoned the owner, we haggled a little and 10 minutes later I was the proud owner of Timpenny No. 320 "Ondine" (a mystical immortal water nymph) at a very reasonable price.
One week later I was back in the brokers yard, tow bar newly fitted, and trailed her back to Norfolk. I launched her at a local boatyard and motored with the mast down the mile to my mooring. During the next week I raised the mast, rigged her up and checked her over. A few jobs needed doing here and there but seemingly nothing of any note. A friend at work offered to crew for me (although he'd never sailed before!) on the so we arranged to meet the following Saturday morning.
Saturday dawned a lovely sunny day but with very little wind. I didn't mind that for once as it would mean a nice slow stress free start to get used to the boat. We hoisted the sails and motored down the mile narrow dyke onto Hickling Broad (the biggest of the Norfolk Broads/lakes and my home water). Once on the open water we stopped the motor and even though the wind was very light Ondine began to sail albeit only recording half a knot on the log. Nevertheless she responded to every twitch of the rudder, went about without ever getting into irons and the self tacking jib was working perfectly. This boded very well and the grin across my face would have put a Cheshire cat to shame. The boat was equipped with a cruising chute and although I had never used one of these before, and I had a novice crew, the wind was so light I decided to try it. The chute went up and filled beautifully, looking very photogenic in red, white and blue and we cheered as we hit the dizzy heights of 1.1 knot, a new record speed for the day! Around lunchtime a sea breeze piped up and now we really started to move. The boat seemed incredibly stiff in a breeze, far stiffer than first impressions when stepping aboard would have led me to believe. The helm remained incredibly light, so light that at one point I looked over the transom to check the rudder blade hadn't fallen off! She handled perfectly, as responsive as a dinghy, pointed as high as anything else on the Broad and was a sheer delight as she creamed along at 6 knots. I was in love with the boat already and knew I had made a good choice this time! I had time to sail her a few more times including going out single handed, sampling all types of weather conditions, before the rapidly nearing end of the season and I was delighted with every aspect of the boat. My regret at selling my old Seahawk finally left me and I decided it was worth spending effort and money on the Timpenny over the winter.
During the winter I added some new fittings, high quality Harken Windward Sheeting Traveller car and fittings, new Harken cam cleats for the jib traveller adjustments, Harken ratchet block for the mainsheet, improved kicking strap, replaced some of the running rigging, replaced the centreboard lifting strop and blocks and stripped most of the interior out ready for a cosmetic renovation. I also replaced the navigation light bulbs with home made LED units reducing the current consumption from around 2 amps to about 100ma. All interior lights are being changed to LEDs as well. This in turn allowed me to replace my electric start, generator equipped (I can now go a season without recharging the battery!) Mercury 7.5 sail power with a much lighter, more economical Yamaha 2.5hp 4 stroke (perfectly adequate for Broads use) which, when coupled with the removal of the two large metal fuel cans, saved at least 50lbs in weight off the transom. I also fitted two small stays from the cabin top to the mast about 3 feet above the desk to prevent the mast from falling off sideways when lowering and raising. I had intended to fit an A-frame, as is standard Broads practice, to allow stress free single-handed mast lowering but, for reasons that will become clear below, ran out of time before the Race. In any case the Timpenny mast was very light and easy to drop with 2 people aboard.
Then horror of horrors, 3 weeks before launch date I discovered a major problem. Despite covering the boat over for the winter I kept finding water on the cabin floor and couldn't work out where it was getting in. A previous owner had fitted a through hull transducer at the rear end of the centreboard case and I had in any case decided to remove it as it was no longer used and was a nuisance where it was. I easily cracked the transducer tube with a chisel to remove it and as soon as it fell out a couple of gallons of water proceeded to pour out of the interior of my hull like a tap had been turned on! My heart sank into my boots, the boat had been ashore for 4 months! On investigation it seems that the centreboard pivot pin support plates had been removed at some time and not correctly refitted or sealed allowing water to get through the mounting plate screw holes and fill up the void in the centreboard casing. In addition the transducer had been fitted so close to rear of the centreboard case that it had breached it near the bottom. Coupled with this the transducer itself appeared to have been bodged in with epoxy but no sealant so that water had been seeping in via this as well and percolating between the transducer hole and the interior of the centreboard case which had left some of the fibreglass matting bonding in the fixed ballast very wet and soggy (although fortunately the hull skin seemed perfectly sound). On lifting the centreboard support plate out I also discovered, which was very lucky as it would have been dangerous and potentially expensive had it failed underway, that the centreboard pivot pin had been eaten away by electrolytic action and snapped off so the centreboard was actually being supported only by the weld of the pin on one side!
A frantic 3 weeks followed, often working in the dark with torches, trying to dry out the hull sufficiently to seal the transducer hole and to get the centreboard pin repaired and re-welded. I also applied fibreglass and epoxy inside the centreboard case and filled all the old holes to ensure there could be no leaks. Finally with a great deal of effort and fiddling we managed to replace the centreboard and fitted new pivot plate fixing screws with copious amounts of sealant around them. To enable a check to be kept on the internal void of the centreboard case, and to allow any remaining moisture to evaporate, I fitted screw in dinghy drain plugs at a couple of locations. At this point Id like to publicly thank my friend, and oft times crew, Ian Richardson for the tremendous amount of time and effort, well beyond the call of duty, he put in to helping me fix the boat over that period. Without his help I would never have got the boat ready in time for the launch day when the mobile crane visits our yard to launch all of the boats.
As it was the boat was physically sound again but some of the purely cosmetic and fine tuning jobs I had intended to do had not been finished (but as I had stripped out the interior this meant the boat was lighter anyway!). I also didn't have time to complete, fit and test the wooden block to seal and streamline the centreboard slot when underway or to rebuild my rudder as per advice given by Association members.
Sharp eyed Association members may notice from the photographs on the web pages that one or two things on my Timpenny don't yet fully comply with the class rules. I have a cruising chute not the class spinnaker. The jib was purchased by the previous owner and is only one year old. Unfortunately its an off the peg version from sails.direct.com and its shape and geometry is not quite right so it doesn't set perfectly, this in particular is an area that I need to sort out as it definitely reduces performance. The jib traveller track is curved to match the radius of the jib foot and is supported several inches above the cabin roof. The mainsail itself is the original, date stamped 1979, so although acceptable performance could obviously be improved with a newer sail.
However, the important thing is that once launched the boat was now water tight and sailed just as well as I remembered from the previous season. Unlike the Jaguar, we were confident of its handling abilities, and the boat was well tried prior to the 2003 3 Rivers Race.
And so, very quickly, the week of the race arrived. Ian and another friend from work agreed to crew for me on the Friday to ferry the boat from Hickling to Horning. It was a delightful sail, sun shining, reasonable breeze and the boat handling perfectly and sailing well. We negotiated the bridge at Potter Heigham without a hitch. Not a single thing broke or needed to be corrected on the way down. Hopes were high that finally my race duck would be broken.
The morning of the 43rd annual 3 Rivers Race dawned bright and sunny. Unfortunately it was with dismay that I listened to the weather forecast, hot dry weather and very light winds again (this is England for goodness sake, where is the wind and rain!). Not the conditions I was hoping for as we all know the Timpenny likes nothing better than a blow. Overnight I had produced a centre board slot sealing block, as recommended by the Australian members, but we decided against fitting it at this late stage in case we ended up jamming the centreboard at a critical moment.
The 3 Rivers Race starts in sections with Groups of boats in different classes leaving at 5 minute intervals over a period of 1 hour to try to ease the initial congestion on the river. This year there was a lower than average turnout with only 90 boats taking part. Also this year the smaller plastic boats, including us, were set to leave last of all (so we didn't get in the way of the faster boats!). This is something of a disadvantage as we lose an extra hour of daylight (and usually wind) and it also shortened the tidal gate for getting to the Lower Bure buoy.
So it was that at 12:55 hours on Saturday 31st May 2003 our 5 minute gun sounded and I headed for the start line in company with 12 other plastic cruisers of assorted classes. There is one other grp cruiser that regularly enters, a very smart and slippery modern Parker 21, that we have always looked at enviously in the past as he has glided past us and headed into the distance and we use him as our personal benchmark. My personal target was to be able to keep reasonably close to him.
Unlike last year we were confident, because of the quick handling of the Timpenny, in vying with the other boats for a good start. Miraculously we crossed the start line first although unfortunately, because we had to move out of the way for a Hired traditional river cruiser who had missed his start 5 minutes earlier, at the downwind end which let some of the other boats sail over us at the start of the long slow beat up the first stretch of the race which is always notoriously slow being very narrow, tree lined and of course with what little wind there was disrupted by the 80 boats ahead of us. We were struggling for the first section in the very light wind, although that Parker 21 was already well behind us, and we were by this time about midway down in our group (but not last for once!).
Ondine at the start of the 3 Rivers Race - Horning
After about an hour and a half of frustratingly slow beating we got to the first wider stretch of open river and by this time the heat had induced a sea breeze reaching the dizzy heights of 10 knots in the gusts. Never the less this was enough to get Ondine in the groove and now we started going well, gradually catching up then starting to pick off the other boats ahead of us in our group. The Parker 21 by this time was already too far behind for us to see and we never saw him again for the rest of our race, objective number 1 more than achieved!
The junction to the River Ant came up ahead, a short leg of only a mile to a turning point and a mile back again but on the narrowest river of the race, barely more than a boat length wide in places. Last year in the Jaguar we had a terrible time here unable to beat effectively and getting stuck in the reeds several times due to lack of manoeuvrability. Even at one time having to gybe back on ourselves 3 times to get enough speed to go about! No such trouble this year, although we did touch bottom a couple of times but with the fast lifting centreplate this was no problem. Ondine surged down the river going from run to beat and back again as the narrow river twisted and turned. Pointing well and just able to pinch high enough on several occasions to avoid putting in another tack. As the turning point came up we could see the second and third boats in our group just ahead of us. We took 3rd place within a few feet of the turning point, 2nd place was ours only 4 or 5 short tacks later (the self tacking jib and the superb manoeuvrability of the Timpenny really helped here).
Now there was only the leader of our group ahead of us but she was a good half mile ahead having had much superior light wind performance to us in the earlier slower section. Having rejoined the main River Bure within only 200 yards it was time to branch off again to the next check point on South Walsham Broad (a small lake) where we had to round a buoy (dropping a plastic tally tag into the bucket planted atop it) and come back to the River Bure again. Unfortunately to get to the Broad you have to negotiate another mile long narrow, winding dyke surrounded by tall trees
Again though progress was slower, unlike last year, we had no real problems and as we reached the entrance to the Broad we could see the leader of our group coming back towards us having already rounded the buoy. The Broad was like a breath of fresh air, literally, as we picked up the breeze again and surged round the mark successfully dropping our tally tag in the bucket and shouting our race number to the marshall in the guard boat checking the competitors progress. A fast run back towards the dyke with the leader still in sight as she had slowed right down now as they got to the dead air. We decided to pop open the cruising chute even though we knew we could only use it for a couple of minutes before we reached the dyke and the wind funnelled round the trees turning a run back into a beat again. Even so this gave us a little extra drive to gain more on the leader. Then we hit the dead air again but this time within 25 yards of the leader. We were very slowly gaining on them when they tried to cut a corner and went aground (only fair, after all we had been stuck aground for about 2 minutes earlier on in the race when I handed the helm over to my crew, an excellent sailor who is a very good light airs helmsman, saying see what you can do with her only for her to go hard aground in thick deep mud on a bend within 30 seconds - such is Broads sailing!). The few seconds they were aground was enough and we went past to take the leading position on the water in our group. A first for me and what ever happened from now on in no one could take that feeling of satisfaction away!
Soon we were back to the main river and that lovely sea breeze again. The previous leader was on our tail but we were maintaining our lead and heading for the 3rd River, the River Thurne. Now came the decision point, to turn right and head towards the sea and the Lower Bure mark where the tide runs really strongly or to turn left and head for Hickling Broad. My original plan was to go seawards but time was getting on and this year they had made that leg longer than normal. Because we had been in the last start we might not now be able to reach the turning point before the tide turned, especially as we had to negotiate a bridge on the way, and if the wind dropped in the early evening as it normally did we might be in real trouble. We dithered, we took one tack towards the Sea then reckoned we wouldn't make it so gybed round and headed the other way. Cruising chute now up (red, white and blue, very photogenic in the sunlight but no one with a camera to take a picture of us!) we had a glorious run up to Potter Heigham Bridge the lowest bridge on the Broads with barely 6.5 feet at the centre of the arch. Rig down, dropped the mast, paddled against the remaining tide through the ancient bridge then paddled further 100 yard under the new road Bridge, mast back up, re-rigged, sailing again, total time 22 minutes, not too bad (but much slower than the traditional broads boats who's masts pivot in a tabernacle with a large lead counterbalance and the brave ones shoot the bridges - i.e. sail straight at the bridge, drop the mast at the last moment, glide through under their own momentum then re-hoist immediately. Superb to see when they get it right, very amusing for the spectators lining the bridge when they don't!).
Very frustrating now, remainder of the ebb tide is still against us, another set of trees in front of us hiding the wind. Sail past the same riverside bungalow about 4 times as we lose ground every time we try to go about on the windless side of the river. Occupants of the bungalow think it is very amusing and keep trying to offer us refreshments as we go past! A small gust comes through, just enough to get past the trees, now we are moving again. Turn into Candle Dyke leading to Hickling Broad, my home water and the Northern most point of the course. Cruising chute back up, amazing 21:00 hours and the wind is still here. 5mph reading on the log as we cross Hickling Broad and we are going well. Drop the chute and round the turning point dropping another tally tag in the bucket on top of the buoy. The Marshalls ask us which parts of the course we have done and we tell them everything but the lower Bure Buoy then back to the finish. They remark that we are doing well to have got here in the time and ask what class of boat she is. Glowing with pride we beat back across the Broad. 22:00 and still 10mph wind in the gusts although its starting to get very dark now and there is no moon tonight. We congratulate each other, we are going to do it this time, the wind hasn't dropped as it normally does by about 21:00. It must be set in for the night, we are going to complete the course easily within the time limit at this rate.
22:45, we spoke too soon. We are heading seawards again but the weak flood tide has now turned against us. Worse, the wind is little more than a breath. We have reached another very narrow stretch between trees. We have tried to beat through them for the last 30 minutes and are exactly 20 feet further back than when we started. We acknowledge that it is unlikely that the wind will come back until dawn. By the time we get to the Lower Bure buoy the tide will be changing against us yet again (Ebbs for 7 hours and floods for 5 hours on the Broads). There is no way then that we could complete the rest of the course within the time limit especially as the last leg is back through the slowest very tree lined section towards Horning. My crew says he has had enough as it's definitely stopped being fun now and is just extremely frustrating. I reluctantly have to agree (maybe helped somewhat by the fact that we are less than 30 minutes under motor from my mooring rather than the 4 hours away we will be if we complete the race, and that after sailing for another 13 hours first!).
We watch a couple of the traditional Broads River Cruisers go through now. There really isn't any substitute for huge sail area in these conditions but even with their hundreds of square feet of sail up above the trees they are struggling now, barely making way against the tide through the trees. Engine on, find the nearest guard boat to register our retirement, rather subdued boat heading back to the mooring.
Still we console ourselves, we were first across the start line, we did lead our group on the water and for the first time ever we left that Parker 21 in our wake, pretty good compared to previous years! And still plenty of scope for more fine tuning yet. I didn't however stop me from agonising for days after about whether we should have tried to carry on or whether we should have taken a different route and if we had would we have finished? One of my friends crews on one of the fastest traditional River Cruisers (with electrically operated mast lowering!) with a mammoth amount of sail and they still took over 15 hours to complete the race so perhaps our decision to retire was the right one after all.
Haven't seen the full race results yet, it usually takes several weeks for the handicaps to be calculated and result sheets printed and posted out, but I have heard that about 60% of the starters retired of failed to reach the finish in time this year so that makes me feel better about it. The extreme dinghies however managed to finish the race still in daylight on Saturday evening so didn't suffer from the loss of wind overnight! Not unexpectedly one of the Thames A-Raters was the first boat home incredibly managing to complete the course in only 8hrs 54 minutes now that is performance (and makes the race seem a lot less of a marathon event!)!
Shall we do the race again, what about doing it in a fast dinghy next time instead, has anyone ever put a bigger rig on a Timpenny (I'd seriously like to hear if anyone has)? We cant let the race beat us so we will have to try again next year (and the next until we finally finish it and get one of those finishers plaques to fit on the boat!). The annoying thing is that the week after the race it was reefing weather almost everyday and the wind stayed with us all night!
In a moment of madness last week I bought an old International 505 trapeze dinghy to see what the performance would be like on the rivers! Truth be told having bought it I'm too scared to sail it now!! On top of that my 3 Rivers crew has just emailed me to say he capsized his Contender single handed trapeze dinghy at the weekend and has broken his arm (obviously took the phrase singlehander too literally!) so he wont be able to sail again for weeks.
Last weekend I spent the night on the Timpenny anchored in the peace and tranquillity of Hickling Broad. I woke up at dawn to one of those idyllic summer mornings with a glorious sunrise and a light mist gently drifting over the water. Watched a Marsh Harrier quartering the reed beds hunting for his breakfast and waited until the wind filled in a little. I then spent a wonderful couple of hours in the sunshine under a bright blue sky and surrounded by wildlife sailing single handed. Now I remember why I love my Timpenny. For most of my sailing she's ideal and when sailing for pleasure I would be moored up somewhere with a cool drink in my hand or motoring in the conditions we try to sail in sometimes in the 3 Rivers Race. In a force 5 or 6 I'd confidently pit her against anything! Mind you, I can just picture that 35 mast and fully battened high roach Mylar sail on her, anyone want to buy a 505?!
Dawn on Hickling Broad looking towards the Observation Tower - Taken from Ondine while at anchor
photo copyright nbroadsman.co.uk 2010
One of the Hickling residents sunning itself on the boardwalk
photo copyright nbroadsman.co.uk 2010
The following year I attempted the Race yet again in Ondine, crewed by my friend Keith Smith, and finally successfully completed it and received one of the coveted finishers plaques!
The year after that circumstances meant I, regretfully, had to sell Ondine but the new owner invited me, and Keith, to sail the 3 Rivers Race with him, especially as he wanted me to helm Ondine over the start line as he was nervous of the usual melee (his first attempt) and we were once again successful!
In 2011 I crewed for my good friend Doug Starr in his wooden Broads River Cruiser, Perfect Lady 9, and we once again successfully finished the race. This time with a (very) brisk wind, which stayed with us during the evening, leading to the breakage and sinking of several other competitors, and a fast heavily canvassed boat perfectly suited to the Broads conditions, not to mention a skilled skipper, we finished in an amazing time of only 12 hours 31 minutes. Bowling along narrow rivers in a heavy boat, complete with bowsprit, at 7 knots in the dark was quite hair raising at times! I was sent forward to sit in the pit in front of the mast wearing a head torch to shout out if obstructions appeared and also when to tack as the bank loomed up in the dark. Doug is an excellent sailor (e.g. He has been the Lightning dinghy National champion) and you can read his account of the race by clicking here: River Cruiser Perfect Lady 9 3RR 2011
Perfect Lady 9 in the 3 Rivers Race 2011 - Reefed and ploughing downwind at high speed
photo courtesy of Paul Sheard