Wind-whipped Wednesday at Henley Royal Regatta


2 minute read
Words Rachel Quarrell
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 02.07.24

Wednesday at Henley Royal Regatta: how to describe it? The third of July apparently marks “Plastic Bag Free Day”, the birthday of racing driver Sebastian Vettel and the invention of the electric razor. Unsurprisingly in eccentric and historic England, the second day of competition at the revamped and extended post-Covid Royal Regatta is equally eclectic. This year it mixed the debut of the Diamonds and Princess Royal open sculling events with the sound and fury of the senior women’s eights, the beginning of the Prince of Wales and Visitors’ intense elite events and — this year — gunmetal grey skies and a vicious head-crosswind to unsettle anyone pleasantly surprised by the unexpectedly good weather the day before.

The blustery and strengthening wind made life difficult for some crews. Calgary’s Wyfold four got a kindly but stern ticking off from umpire Greg Searle, who pointed out that they had strayed from their station while beating Hereford RC (he had to warn them three times). Selected school Southport, Australians in the Princess Elizabeth junior men’s eights were also warned several times.

They weren’t the only ones – despite a stiff head-crosswind from the Buckinghamshire side, crews on the Berkshire station insisted on straying across the course quite a lot, whether coxed or coxless. The dictionary defines Xylophobia as the irrational fear of wooden objects: clearly an endemic fear found in those racing between the famous HRR course-side booms, and mysteriously affecting most those on the Berkshire station (aka the towpath, Enclosures or Fawley bar side of the river). 

Later on it was Hapoel’s Tel Aviv, a largely English-educated foursome, who attracted umpire explanations, this time voluntarily and from Fiona Dennis. They got her attention with a polite hand up after losing to Leander’s Visitors B crew of U23 hopefuls in a fours race which had some early clashes. In one of the most demure appeals ever seen at the Royal Regatta they courteously asked if she thought there had been an effect on the race, but the appeal was (equally politely) denied, probably because once the clashes were over there was a clear difference in speed between the two qualifiers. It’s largely academic anyway because the Pink Palace now face Cal’s A-crew of Varsity stars who are out to deny defending champions Oxford Brookes, were fastest of the day and will be a big obstacle to further Leander progression. 

Erging influencer Cam Buchan boosted his online ratings by a few hundred with a graceful loss in the opening heats of the Diamonds “easily” to Spain’s former lightweight Daniel Gutierrez, who was borrowing a boat from Zimbabwe. Stephen Cox, the Zimbabwean sculler here in the same event, is going to Paris, while Gutierrez isn’t. The two are in the same half of the Diamonds singles draw, but with world champion Olli Zeidler standing in Cox’s way of a semi-final place, are unlikely to meet, making a loan of the second-best Zimbabwean boat a low risk. 

The Island student women’s eights gave good entertainment for the thickening crowds not put off by spurts of occasional rain. Boston University had a barnstormer against Southern Methodist a few weeks after the two met at the NCAAs with similar-ish line-ups, this time BU winning by only a third of a length as opposed to the clear-water margin they had over SMU in Ohio.

University of Bristol rowed through University College Dublin in another display of feisty and determined women’s rowing, but the fireworks came in the fourteenth race of the day, Durham B against Nottingham. Though racing in different events at the British Universities championship in May, the two were similar speeds so battled their way up the course with Nottingham holding their nerve and steadily eroding a full length’s lead from Durham to end with the Midlanders a third of a length up, the tightest margin of the day in the Island races. 

The Thames club men’s eights were on display for the first time, verdicts ranging from “easily” for selected crews Thames A and Avon from New Zealand, to three-quarters of a length for Derby over Cambridge ’99 and Marlow surprising the Stewards by challenging and beating the selected Riverside eight. One of the quickest crews in the event, De Hoop from the Netherlands, were faced up to by Nonesuch, aka the alumni and friends of University of Bristol, but strode past them without difficulty for the second-quickest time of the day behind Vesta’s run a second quicker.

The Prince of Wales elite men’s quads delivered the usual medley of quality sculling of varied yet interesting medallist pedigree. The under-23s of Hansa Hamburg & Kappeln were about to be pushed hard to the line by Dutchmen Triton when the Dutch strokeman clipped a blade at the start of the Enclosures, setting off a major wobble which cost Triton the race after a near-stopped stroke or two, and let Hamburg & Kappeln off the hook.

Other selected crews were less lucky, Norwegians Ormsund & Christiania being dumped out after a masterclass in poised row-downs by the Tideway Scullers, Thames and Proteus-Eretes composite. And the probable German lightweight quad from Würzburg & Speyer — yet to be formally selected — was overtaken by a puffing and panting openweight Star and Arrow crew comprising one retired Olympic quads silver medallist, one retired Olympic eights champion, a current GB squad member who just missed Paris selection and a former U23/junior world champion.


Though it was hard work and briefly put in doubt by a near-crablet, the Leander members pushed hard for the whole 2112 metres, overtaking Würzburg & Speyer’s classy quick start after Remenham to claim a one-length victory over the German selected crew. The next match in the series, between Star and Arrow and the Sculler composite, could possibly go all the way, given how close the two crews’ times were during the worst weather of the day. 

One of the high points for rowing-watchers on Wednesday was an unprecedented eleven consecutive eights races, as an observant journalist colleague pointed out. Before the days of more women’s events, there were only five eights at all, and they were always interspersed with smaller boats. The reaching of nine VIIIs classes, with gender parity in everything except the elite sub-international Ladies’ Plate (for men), helped and in 2022 there were eight VIIIs races in a row, the highest to date. 2023 had a timetable-setter who obsessed about switching boat classes often to keep the audience amused, but this year’s scheduling of most of the eights classes on the second day of six, made for the eleven in a row, a new record.

On Thursday lots more open events join in, including the Queen Mother and Princess Grace quads featuring some recent retirees from international rowing. Then the Ladies’ Plate and one race of the Grand get going on Friday, leaving only the Stewards’ top coxless fours to join the party on Sunday.