A promising start at Henley Royal Regatta


4 minute read
Words Rachel Quarrell
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 02.07.24

Four seasons in one day greeted the Henley stalwarts as the juniors, student men’s eights and assorted club events of the Royal Regatta got under way. Most of the schools have finished term-time, those who hadn’t quietly bunked off for the day, and the car parks filled with parents and club supporters picnicking with determination. The cognoscenti turned up in blazers, knee-length hemlines and waving little yellow programmes to cheer on the first round of most of the biggest events at Sir Steve Redgrave’s last Henley Royal Regatta (HRR) as Chairman before he hands over the reins.  

His successor-elect, Richard Phelps, was on umpire duty in the launches, but although he got his flag out a couple of times to warn erratic coxless fours, it was his fellow umpire Fiona Dennis who had to deliver the first disqualification of 2024 when Grasshopper Zürich’s zigzag-steering Wyfold M4- fouled City of Cambridge after being warned twice, only a handful of strokes off the start. The DSQ gives City of Cambridge the dubious honour of facing slippery Australians Mercantile on Thursday, but the quickest Wyfold entry so far looks to be Calgary, a very handy crew who won coxless fours at Canadian Henley last year and have now come to Britain to do a double.   

The Princess Elizabeth junior men’s eights is shaping up to be immense this year, the promise of the intense National Schools racing a month ago bearing fruit with some close results in the first round here at Henley. Probable favourites St Paul’s somewhat meanly floored it to Fawley against the hapless Emanuel in the afternoon, but their times were only a shade faster than those of their rivals, and there could be some grim match-ups before we find out who will be in the semis, let alone the finals.  

The Stewards selecting only the six UK crews ahead of them in the National Schools JM8+ A-final must have annoyed Westminster School. They took it out on Alter Teichweg “Old Pond Path”, from Hamburg, knocking the Germans out with a rapid time in the evening, but by then the wind had dropped and the sun had come out to make for usefully good conditions. Southport School are also in the mix for a PE run, but weren’t as impressive as some of the other selected crews as they got rid of Belen Jesuit Prep School from Miami.  

Belen Jesuit’s other opposition, Shiplake in the Fawley, were also the winners, sending the Americans to the bar early in the week. Shiplake have impressively managed to get crews into both junior quads and both junior eights, the foursome winning for a combined margin of 9.25 lengths between them. The all-junior slate across both genders may have been achieved before, though not by many junior/school clubs, but for it to be done by a school (rather than a club which can accept any new arrivals), and for all four to get through their first round is almost certainly unprecedented, though the selected crews lie ominously in wait for them.  

The big guns of the Prince Philip junior women’s eights aren’t in action until Friday, also true of the Fawley and Diamond Jubilee quads, but Latymer Upper’s girls ran Kingston Grammar School impressively close in the Prince Philip, leading them until well past Fawley and Texas nearly overturned a competent Claire’s Court School quad in the Fawley. Elsewhere in the same event Miami were overhauled by a surging Maidenhead quartet and promptly caught a crab. In the Jubilee junior women’s quads Rob Roy went one better, hitting the booms opposite the floating grandstand near the finish, when already down to Shrewsbury School.

In the student men’s eights, the Temple Challenge Cup, Bristol played the same game on Njord, holding their nerve while a few feet down in the first half, then rowing through the Dutchmen. Tatty unwashed blazers (the staple attire of Dutch club rowers) were on display in Stewards towards the end of the day, but on happy winners: Njord were the only ones to lose, the other five in the Temple and De Hoop smashing through Nottingham in the Britannia club coxed fours. Germany’s clubs were less successful, four being defeated while only two Wyfold fours made it through, Hannover and Neusser.  

The Prince Albert was the most predictable, being a small event but one in which four selected crews were racing in the first round. With a complete lack of surprise Oxford Brookes B, Cambridge University, Edinburgh University and University of London qualified, the narrowest margin being Edinburgh’s 0.75 length over La Salle University. The Scotland-based students now have to meet Oxford Brookes A, who might just be heading for a three-peat trophy claim.  


There were nine “easily” verdicts in the day, one of them a reclassification of the St Paul’s victory over Emanuel, after the race recorder’s hopelessly optimistic verdict of five lengths was revised, given the huge time gap between the crews at the end. At the other end of the scale the race of the day was Northwich’s superb conquest of Molesey in the Fawley. The verdict ended up as a length, but the two crews were level at the Mile and the eighth, after battling the entire way, Northwich having started a sustained charge a couple of hundred yards early to claw back against the west Londoners who had led until then. 

A closer result was achieved by London in the Brit Cup, who rowed down Upper Thames to claim a win by a foot, the narrowest margin possible at Henley Royal Regatta. But the banks were still pretty early and a cloudy drizzle falling on the spectators for this morning race, and there was more atmosphere for Bristol later as the early evening sun started to peek out from behind the clouds and the afternoon Pimm’s cups started to take effect.  

Barring the early light rain it was a better day weather-wise than had been expected, and some juicy racing to get stuck into. Wednesday sees the debut of another nine events including four open categories, but there will be no star-spotting of world champion Olli Zeidler in the singles racing until Thursday, since he has a bye in the first round.