Fawley Fireworks on the Fourth of July


5 minute read
Words Rachel Quarrell
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 05.07.24

Day three in Henley-on-Thames at Henley Royal Regatta and the rain had gone, to be replaced by strong gusty winds – mostly tail – under a Constable-blue sky full of English cottonwool clouds. The crowds are starting to intensify now, and the shape of the weekend semis and finals is starting to show a faint outline, with one junior event creating the biggest drama three separate times. 

The Fawley junior men’s quads were set alight early on when Lea caught a crab and snapped a blade as they and Hinksey Sculling School went past Remenham. The race was already solidly in Hinksey’s hands, to be fair, but it was an unhappy way to finish for the Londoners. There was more Fawley drama later on, when a stupendous battle between Los Gatos and Great Marlow School saw the highly regarded Californians knock out the equally interesting local lads who had won the Junior Sculling Head earlier in the year.

The goal looked almost unachievable for Marlow for much of the course, a length down and unable to make an impact, but staying in contact while Los Gatos wavered slightly on their steering, though not to Marlow’s disadvantage. Coming towards the Enclosures Great Marlow School started to push, closing the gap intently past the morning crowds, and finishing apparently level. After a significant delay the race went to Los Gatos by a foot, the shortest declarable margin at Henley Royal Regatta. Hinksey and Los Gatos now meet in the quarter-final.

But the most astounding race of the day came late on, again in the Fawley, between Tideway Scullers and Leander. The Scullers set off exactly as you’d expect the School’s Head winners to do, with purpose, seized a lead and then defended it against Leander’s pushes. Deep into the Enclosures, and leading by just under a length, the Scullers crew wobbled on uneven water, took a stroke-side air shot and as a result caught a boat-stopper with most of their bow-side blades, letting Leander shoot through.

But that wasn’t the end of the race and unlucky Scullers immediately restarted, catching Leander up rapidly and starting to haul back the disadvantage. The recovery was truly dramatic, and as the crews swept through the finish line locked together and Scullers in mid-surge, the regatta held its breath, waiting to find out who had won. By the time the photofinish camera had been looked at for several minutes Leander had almost paddled back to their raft, eventually discovering that they had ended as winners by a mere foot, the Scullers surge having been just a moment too late. This will be a good sign for the Pink Palace, but there is a way to go for last year’s winners, and they may need more opening speed.

Dutch wins were in low supply on Thursday, which is unusual for a rowing nation which knows how to do Henley. Lucas Keijzer won handily in his Diamonds singles heat, and De Hoop continue to look very dangerous in the Thames Challenge Cup for club men’s eights, but all three of the Dutch Island crews (student women’s eights) are now out of the competition, ASR Skøll comprehensively beaten after being rowed through by a strong and rhythmic Edinburgh University B crew. Fortunately there are still three Dutch student boats in the men’s equivalent, the Temple Challenge Cup, the crews of which had a rest day on Thursday. But in total nine Netherlands crews were sent home, meaning more historically tattered blazers propping up the Fawley and Bridge bars. 

The start of the Princess Grace for international women’s quads saw the first race outing for a very intriguing quartet, Lausanne & Shawnigan Lake School. The Canadian part of this solid quartet is well-known W1x Carling Zeeman, who pulled out of the quad racing as Shawnigan Lake (non-composite) when they failed to qualify for Paris at the Final Olympic Qualification Regatta in Lucerne.

She is accompanied by the former Swiss LW2x Patricia Merz and Frederique Rol, the latter having decided not to finish the battle to be selected for the same regatta, and former world champion Jeannine Gmelin. Gmelin retired from rowing after her beloved coach Robin Dowell died unexpectedly, but later came out of retirement in an attempt to qualify a Swiss double for Paris, but finished outside of the qualification spots at Lucerne. The composite defeated Marlow and Queen’s Belfast without trouble, while the rest of Zeeman’s crewmates, racing as plain old Shawnigan Lake School, beat Leander A in the other half of the draw.

With the arrival of the Town open women’s coxless fours came more steering difficulty, though the lighter early wind with swirling blustery gusts was trickier than the heftier but more consistent tailwind later on. In the Upper Thames versus Oxford Brookes University heat Upper Thames took an early lead as Brookes had trouble staying straight, but the students turned the tables on them at halfway and managed a tight two-thirds of a length win.


Similar racing appeared in the Wyfold race between Calgary and Marlow, with the Canadians the early leaders but succumbing to the wind and veering enough to give Marlow the chance to row through. For coxless boats particularly it can feel extra difficult to battle not only your opposition but also the booms and the weather conditions, so making it through even one round at Henley is to be celebrated.

In the nearly-rans class this time were Oxford Brookes B’s women in the Island, who clung to and didn’t quite turn over Cambridge’s summer entry, and Thames in the Town Challenge Cup, taking on Leander and Oxford and closing fast enough near the finish line to end up with a two-foot verdict. At the other end of the scale was world champion Olli Zeidler, winning “easily” (by more than five lengths) in his first run at getting a fourth Diamonds pineapple cup, and Hartpury’s Diamond Jubilee junior women’s quad doing the same in their victory over Shrewsbury School.