Shiplake’s special week continues


5 minute read
Words Rachel Quarrell
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 07.07.24

The heavens opened, spectators shivered and the coffee stands were doing better trade than the Pimms bar, but nothing would put off the punters trekking to the Thames riverbank for the penultimate day of Henley Royal Regatta 2024.

Forty mm (1.5 inches) of rain fell on the Henley area in 24 hours from mid-Friday to mid-Saturday this week, a swimming-pool per rower at the Royal Regatta, or so it seemed. After the morning deluges out came sunshine and Shiplake College, the schoolboys picking off rivals Eton in much the same way they had demolished Radley the day before, by rowing inexorably through them. Whilst favourites St Paul’s were clearly on form beating holders St Edward’s on Saturday, it’s obvious Shiplake are a real danger to anyone in the second half of the race. The only time Shiplake have reached the PE final was 35 years ago, when the current bowman’s father was in the crew.

Some brilliant races lit up the sodden morning, including a 2112-metre tussle between Thames A and London A in the Thames Cup club men’s eights, typical of the nerve-racking derbies so often seen between the two rival Putney Embankment clubs. British club men’s rowing at its best.

It was matched by two knife-edge afternoon contests in the Prince Philip junior women’s eights, the first seeing Headington School row through Newport Aquatic Center USA and the second a win for RowAmerica Rye against Marin Rowing Association in which the winners rarely dropped below 37 strokes a minute. The combined margins of the two races at the six official markers was a single boat length, 20 feet being the biggest gap at any point in either race.

The juniors weren’t the only oarswomen impressing: the Island Challenge Cup for student women’s eights has produced some of the most stunning races this week. Saturday’s semifinal between the universities of London and Newcastle was no exception, a tit-for-tat chase up the river featuring first Newcastle then UL leading, before a thrilling sprint by Newcastle turned the tables one last time in the Enclosures to hand them a Blue Star win. With holders Oxford Brookes’ victory over Cambridge being less dramatic it is hard to tell which has the more complete hand but with a lightning start and spirited finish Newcastle have a real chance to engrave a new club name on the Island trophy.

Amongst the roster of clubs which have won dozens and sometimes hundreds of Henley Royal races and trophies there are hundreds more who have never reached a final, let alone won one. This year’s diamond in the rough is Royal Chester, who haven’t won a trophy since their Wyfold triumph exactly one hundred years ago. Holders Thames are determined to take the Britannia Challenge Cup home again for the third consecutive time of asking, but when chances like this come around so rarely, clubs like Chester have nothing to lose by throwing the kitchen sink at them, and anything might happen. 

Oxford Brookes solved its Olympic-year conundrum by putting its best into the Grand Challenge Cup, Temple and Visitors’, leaving an experienced but slightly less hefty crew of lower-ranked oarsmen to defend the Ladies’ Plate trophy. Their run came to an end on Saturday when Cambridge’s summer-long project mixing half Blues and half Goldie pulled off a one-length win after fending off a sustained Brookes attack across the whole 2112-metre course. There was a wobble in mid-course when Brookes managed to close from a shred of overlap to a tighter margin, but the Light Blues weathered it and moved away at the end. The final battle between them and Princeton’s varsity, the who beat Thames and Scullers with a strong performance, will be interesting.

Princeton will want to stop them as part of another rare double, that of winning the Ladies’ Plate and Temple in one day. It was famously first achieved by Cambridge in 1999, and by Oxford Brookes three times since 2017, but the only time a non-UK university has won both was in 2002, when Harvard bagged the Temple with their freshmen and the Ladies’ with their varsity crew.

The Tiger varsity final is just over four hours before the Princeton 2V faces Brookes’ attempt at a three-peat in the Temple after the British crew ejected Harvard from the competition. Meanwhile the top Brookes crew has to face the might of the US national champion Huskies, after the U Washington eight bested the Princeton Training Center and Craftsbury Green development squad in a taut contest from Temple Island to the line.

There was a flurry of excitement in the Princess Royal W1x semi between Cambridge BC’s Cicely Madden and rival Sophia Luwis. Madden won in the end (and will now face Chinese sculler Ruiqi Liu after Juliane Faralisch withdrew for medical reasons), but although Madden led for most of the course Luwis overtook her briefly between Fawley and Remenham. Madden grabbed the lead back without delay and continued to a 2.5 length victory. By contrast men’s singles world champion Olli Zeidler strolled home against Daniel Gutierrez from Spain, and is widely expected to clinch his fourth pineapple cup by winning the Diamonds on Sunday. 

Supporters of equality will celebrate the increasing number of clubs performing to a high standard simultaneously on the men’s and women’s side, a new development since the mass expansion of women’s events in 2021. Marlow becomes the first club to simultaneously get crews to the final of the Fawley (JM4x) and Diamond Jubilee (JW4x), while Thames and Oxford Brookes could possibly repeat their core-level 2023 double wins in the Thames/Wargrave (club 8+) and Temple/Island (university 8+) events respectively.

This year Oxford Brookes also try to pull off a feat only accomplished previously by national teams: that of capturing the Grand and Remenham (men’s and women’s open 8+) trophies at the same time. Standing in their way of the Holland Beker W8+ winners is a lively development crew of largely under-23 internationals from the Princeton Training Center and Arion, coached by UW’s Yas Farooq, which came through the Hollandia Dutch development squad to win by only half a length after overcoming a slow start. 

Leander’s successful crews are all in coxless fours or quads, with new bids for the Stewards and Visitors’ men’s coxless fours titles as well as an attempt to retain the Town Challenge Cup for W4- and their favourites, the Queen Mother (open M4x) and the Prince of Wales (elite club M4x).

Overall fourteen of the nineteen holders back to defend trophies are still in contention, and the chances of the results looking very similar to last year are unnervingly high. One trophy is already guaranteed to stay in the same hands, since Oxford Brookes’ A and B men’s coxed fours race one another for the Prince Albert Challenge Cup and will therefore definitely equal Imperial’s record of four wins in the event.