Still-ish conditions in the morning steadily built to a breezy, bluster on the first day of racing at Henley Royal Regatta but most crews were untroubled by the cross-head as they embarked on their Henley adventure. Unlike the grey, overcast skies the stewards enclosure crowd were as colourful as ever and the enclosures rather full for a Tuesday. They saw some peppy performances in amongst the more processional races typical of the first day of heats.
Wycliffe Junior R.C. ‘C’ suffered the earliest exit of the day, falling to Hartpury College in the Diamond Jubilee. The first race, at 9am, was umpired by Richard Phelps, who is set to replace Sir Steve Redgrave as the next Chairman of the Regatta in late 2024. Reloading the boat trailer before most have boated is a special kind of disappointment but, perhaps, a shade of solace will be taken from being the first junior women’s boat to start the regatta.
Hartpury also sent the American boys packing just before midday in the Fawley. It was a far from sleepy effort from Seattle Preparatory School, they maintained overlap all the way to the finish.
For all the talk of American ‘superclubs’ it was a fiery Welsh dragon that scored a historic first in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup [P.E.]. In a boat named ‘Kraken’ Llandaff R.C. became the first club (i.e., non-school) to win a race in the P.E. after beating King’s School Chester.
“I’m really proud of what we did today,” said Llandaff’s coach Ole Schlottmann. “It’s not just for the boys. I think we achieved something for Britain here to actually make rowing more accessible. It will do wonders for the British Junior Rowing Team.”
“And if you think about what we’ve got at Llandaff, we’ve got 1,250 metres of water. It’s a very fast flowing river and there’s a lot of current. Obviously, in the winter it’s mostly flooded and we’ve got three bridges to contend with, so it’s really hard for the eights.”
A more immediate challenge for Llandaff heralds from down under. Brisbane Boys’ College made light work of Monmouth in the second P.E. race of the day. “Tomorrow we’re racing against the Brisbane crew who are pretty tall and strong. I wouldn’t say we’re equal or better but on a good day we might be able to beat them,” said Schlottmann.
The first upset of the regatta came in the Wyfolds. Tyne took down the 2021 finalists, Lea R.C., who had been tipped for a good run this year. Mutterings of onboard illness might have been at play, either way it was a close battle. Lea pushed their stroke rate up to 38spm as the finish line approached but Tyne grimly held a one length victory.
The Temple provided some of the most exciting contests of the day – starting with a fierce encounter between Syracuse and University of London, won by Syracuse by 1/3L. And there was a slight pause, no doubt a nervous one for the students lined up at the start, as a swan was ushered out of the racing line. The Princeton ‘Tigers’ roared off and put Durham ‘B’ under immediate pressure, before extending their lead to open water by the Barrier. Princeton, an eight made from their lightweight 1V and JV eight, secured the win.
Another feisty encounter in the Temple saw a dogged effort from Imperial who clung to the coattails of Colgate University, USA. In the end it went the way of Colgate by three-quarters of a length but their cox will need to find a more direct route in the next race. This race was immediately followed by a cracker in the Brit between Thames and Marlow, it finished with a 1/3L win for the Londoners.
The only Dutch defeat came in the all-Dutch Prince of Wales race between Triton and Dudok van Heel and K.S.R. Njord, the former beating the latter by 2 ¼ L. However, the evening saw a Dutch win at risk of being overturned after Reading appealed to umpire Phelps.
Reading’s bowman (and steersman), Josh Lyon, claimed the Dutch Under 23 men’s quad, who are racing as Hollandia Roeiclub, Netherlands, had impeded his crew at a critical moment when transitioning onto rhythm. Phelps, who had warned the Dutch during the race, was not convinced. After a brief conflab with his colleagues at the back of the launch Phelps he said, “I saw no contact, there was no foul, and they did not impede your race”.
It was a different story in the Fawley earlier in the afternoon. The Trentham Boat Club boys were devastated after being disqualified by umpire John Hedger, in their race against Lea. Trentham veered within ten strokes of the start and failed to correct their course. They were deemed not to have responded to the umpire’s continued warnings, and after a clash of blades, the race was red flagged less than a minute into the race. Lea progressed to the next round with little more than a row over in their legs.
During a break in the racing some of the open event competitors, whose first races come later in the week, took to the waters for a luncheon run out. First spotted was Great Britain’s Tobias Schroder and his Canadian competitor Trevor Jones both entered into the Diamond Challenge Sculls, and the Canadian women’s eights. Asked how they found the water, one Canadian oarswomen noted, “It’s bumpier than we’re used to!”
Royal Chester versus Vesta delivered a post-lunch corker. Vesta took an early lead at the quarter-mile but Royal Chester charged back and led by a length through the mid-race. As the crews passed the enclosure crowds Vesta began to wobble and Royal Chester seized their chance, clocking 39spm by the progress boards on route to victory. A fantastic effort, and the most enjoyable, albeit energy-expensive, way to win at Henley.
Beneath darkening skies and a drop in the temperature, it was the pink blades of Westminster that came into flashing into view as Canford and Westminster charged down the course. Canford – who celebrate their 100th anniversary this year – were unable to prevent a win for Westminster, but the boys in pink (notably P.C.S. Moody, their cox) did not escape a stern ticking off from race umpire Sarah Winkless.
Eton had a solid lung opener in their first step towards another P.E. title, they are the most prolific winners of the P.E. They faced tough opposition in the form of Greenwich Crew, USA, who have enjoyed recent successes at the Head of the Charles and the Mercer Sprints.
Eton, who ranked third at National Schools, held their lead over Greenwich. The Americans were a picture of determination as they hunted a comeback but it wasn’t to be. Eton crossed the finish three-quarters of a length ahead, enough breathing space to underrate the American’s by three strokes per minute.
The last race of the day, an engaging Brit encounter, went the way of City of Bristol who outgunned the Tideway Scullers by 1/2 L in the final throws to the line.