After a sedate start to Henley Royal week the women came into their own on Friday, fabulous racing enlivening what was otherwise a soggy and shivery day. University of London’s Georgie Robinson Ranger (GBR) pushed international Marta Wielczko all the way up the course after the Pole seemed not to hear the ‘Go’, Ranger clinging on determinedly to lose by only a length after 2112 metres.
Prince Philip record-breakers St Catherine’s Sydney had their all-season unbeaten streak broken by NEIRA champions Deerfield Academy in a thrilling race. The Australians had close to a length at the ¾ Mile before Deerfield held and then killed their push, surgically removing them from the competition and moving away to win by 1¾ L. Meanwhile Headington beat Henley for the second time in two weeks, after the rattled local club thought they might have damaged something by cracking against the stake-boat on the way into the start area. The Oxford schoolgirls, national and Henley Women’s J8+ champions, are now the last Brits standing in the junior women’s eights.
Leander’s Town W4- raced twice – sort of – as they beat Oxford Brookes early doors in the four before splitting into two pairs to race the Hambleden. Flo Donald and Daisy Bellamy were beaten by Henley Women’s Regatta champions Lizzie Witt and Emily Lindberg but Oxonians Juliette Perry and Amelia Standing, now rowing for the Pink Palace, got a bit of Boat Race revenge on Cambridge’s Caoimhe Dempsey and Isabelle Bastien with a 4 L win.
Late in the afternoon stellar Canadian sculler Carling Zeeman, currently in their quad, jumped into the Maple Bay bow seat in place of Katie Clark – presumably due to a medical problem – and beat the excellent Katie Mole and Rebecca Wilde in the Stonor doubles. A brilliant Thames B vs Thames C match-up in the Wargrave (with ‘C’ allegedly faster than ‘B’) was stymied first by a broken backstay for the B crew, and after a delay to repair, a crab caught by the B crew at Remenham. Despite all these disasters Thames B rowed through to beat their clubmates by a desperate ¾ L. And to a cheering Enclosures Tyne beat Christiania Roklub Norway in a toe-to-toe race where the lead changed hands three times, to go through and face Leander on Saturday.
Blustery cold wind and occasional rain squalls had greeted racers and spectators and lasted all day, dwindling only in the last hour or so, as all the competitions went up a notch and the first crews made it to Sunday’s finals. University of Washington and Oxford Brookes were the first to race their way into a final as UW beat Imperial and Brookes beat the renegade Harvard oarsmen rowing as Adams House in the two semis of the Prince Albert coxed fours. Elsewhere it was quarterfinal action, in which the US fared more miserably than usual, most of their student eights being kicked out by Brookes crews. Brookes’ Temple A crew swiped aside Harvard’s best eight fairly casually, and will now meet Washington’s mixed-level crew who took care of Cornell by 2½ L.
The morning was enlivened by a boxing match between London and De Hoop in the ever-eventful Wyfolds. De Hoop had the faster cruising speed and moved into a ¾ L lead, but London stubbornly refused to give up, and kept them under relentless pressure, winding effectively along the Enclosures to close the gap to three feet at the Progress Boards and still still moving. Nearing the progress boards the Dutchmen’s steering began to waver and they curved in towards the British club crew, ignoring warnings, to clash two strokes before the line.
It happened so late that umpire Fiona Dennis didn’t call foul and disqualify De Hoop while they were on the course, so an appeal from London triggered the post-race options in the rules, which rule out a foul if it hasn’t influenced the race. Whilst the clash was far from slight, after a pause to check with her finish-post colleagues and video, Dennis ruled it a win for London, who had already been ahead when it happened, by a mere two feet — the closest margin of the day.
Later on two other polysyllabic Dutch crews from Nereus were rowed down, one being their Temple men’s eight, who fell foul of IRA finalists Syracuse University and came in an unaccustomed 3¾ L down, whilst the Nereus Visitors’ four fared no better, coming up against Molesey and Bristol, featuring three of the four quickest club M4- oarsmen at Marlow Regatta. Whilst Nereus (half of the 2021 Temple champion crew) took an early lead, Molesey and Bristol stayed resolutely calm and invoked a well-timed surging push through Fawley which brought them level before Remenham. From there they kept the cosh down and bested a desperate Nereus crew by a close but impressive 2/3 length, taking them into a semi-final against (who else) Oxford Brookes, a revised version of the crew which beat them by 2 seconds at Marlow.
The Princess Elizabeth junior men’s eights rolled on, as ever waking dormant partisanship in now-portly alumni. Teddies School dashed Eton’s hope that the St Edward’s National Schools win had been a fluke by demolishing the frequent winners’ pretensions before the Barrier. That sets up a Teddies/Radley Oxfordshire semi on one side of the draw, whilst on the other side St Paul’s and Shiplake ensured an all-British final by taking out the two best overseas crews of the regatta.
Brisbane Boys’ College are over chasing the memories of 1993 when their unbeaten eight won the trophy. The dream of repeating it turned to dust as St Paul’s held the Aussies’ early speed, stayed controlled and then pushed hard at Remenham, levelling Brisbane in time to record a one-foot advantage at the Mile before moving away to win by two lengths. And all this despite St Paul’s uncharacteristically clipping the booms early on.
Shiplake disposed of Marin Rowing Association, who had quietly hoped to be the first non-school club to get its name on the PE trophy, though the Americans harried them all the way so that Shiplake couldn’t get clear for most of the race. Nearing the Enclosures they managed to lift the rate in the hefty head-wind where Marin couldn’t, and went up half a gear to pull it out to a full length at the line.
The junior quads were no less eventful, with Shiplake earning crowd approval by recovering from a slow start to row down Wycliffe Juniors’ B crew in the Diamond Jubilee JW4x, while Hinksey Sculling School did a similar job in the Fawley JM4x. Up against Sydney who rapidly got their bows in front, Hinksey clung on by their fingernails then took advantage of Sydney finding the second half of the course heavy going to overturn a length-plus deficit with a booming sprint which upset Sydney so much they grazed the booms while trying fruitlessly to deny the UK crew the victory. The final surge was so quick that Hinksey’s margin was still half a length even though they caught a confused crab in the last strokes and had to scramble over the finish line.
Buchan waved farewell to his Diamonds hopes with a comedic pause in his quarterfinal when he was already down and out of ammunition against Canada’s Trevor Jones. Buchan hesitated briefly up the Enclosures, grabbed both sculls in his left hand and waved to an appreciative crowd with his right before getting back into race rhythm to scull to the line for the inevitable defeat by the Canadian international.
To finish it off the course was buzzed in the early evening by a growling Lancaster bomber, though the Red Arrows had to cancel due to the low and threatening grey cloud. Next on the menu a bit more sunshine, a Saturday of semifinals and historic row-pasts, and then it’s just the finals left. Henley Royal weekend already, where does the time go?
See you by the river.