Henley Royal’s Wednesday racing opened with a grey sky, stronger head-wind than the previous day yet still an unaccountably large number of spectators. Rowers seem to have twigged that it’s better to take the time off work and go in person than to get caught furtively watching YouTube in the office. Mind you, it’s likely 2/3 of those lounging in the Enclosures on Tuesday were “working from home”, given the number who were nipping out of Stewards to have long work phone calls in the roadway beside Lion Meadow.
Those dozing in the deckchairs were rudely awoken 40 seconds into the third race of the day, when Melbourne University’s Visitors’ four was summarily disqualified not far past Temple Island. The Australians had veered quickly across the course towards Harvard University and first smacked blades with them after 20 strokes, clashing so badly that Harvard’s bow lost grip of his handle. As the crews ground to a near-halt umpire John Hedger raised his red flag and told Melbourne the bad news: straight DSQ with no rerow. The video now doesn’t include the reverse-angle replay viewers were shown at the time, which confirmed how bad the clash had been.
We had the first one-foot verdict of the regatta an hour later, when former GB oarsman turned Internet sensation Cam Buchan rowed through one time Drysdale-slayer Matthew Brigham in a tightly-fought contest. Buchan’s many young fans may have been disappointed to see him sculling with his top on, but his online training tips will do well from the extra exposure.
The selections made by the Stewards — largely to keep apart specific crews until later in the week — always throw up a few anomalies. This year’s includes experienced Canadian single sculler Trevor Jones, who was 9th at the Tokyo Olympics and 10th in Racice last summer, failing to be selected while Pole Piotr Plominski was. That leaves Jones and 2019 Diamonds champion Oli Zeidler in the same half of the draw, and big hurdles for everyone racing them. Asked which international he would prefer to race, Zeidler said “That’s a good question. But if you want to win you have to be able to beat everyone anyway.” Jones demolished former Boat Race stroke Tobias Schroder without trouble on Wednesday and now meets Buchan.
The winner of that one will likely meet Zeidler, who will first race Liam Smit, the former South African who has shifted to Canadian citizenship and is one of the five in contention for the Canadian national quad. They’re taking turns in the single and Smit is the odd one out for Henley while his compatriots row the Queen Mother Challenge Cup in the quad, but he’ll be back in the crew boat for Lucerne after which worlds selection will be decided. In the other half of the draw Steve Cox, a British Army soldier who rows for Zimbabwe, beat 2022 Australian lightweight champion Damien Schroder, perhaps an opening bid for a Paris place next year.
Through sheer luck the Temple draw gave us Cambridge University’s lightweights (including a couple who made Goldie this year) racing Princeton’s lightweight 1V and 2V mix. The US Tigers, whose full crews wiped the floor with the competition at the IRAs last month, were in front by a bowball at the first marker, then moved away more strongly with a post-Barrier push. Undaunted, Cambridge pushed on, but though they closed again later the Tigers pushed off them and put in another big effort to claim the win by ¾ length.
The gap between clubs at the top of UK rowing was emphasised by the Prince Albert heat of Newcastle against Oxford Brookes, where the southerners took the race by the scruff of the neck so fast that they could drop the rate to 33 before the Barrier. The gap continued to open so they dropped again, finishing at a very leisurely 24 to allow Newcastle’s top men’s crew at the regatta to catch up.
Fortunately the Blue Star women are doing better, the Island ‘A’ crew clinically taking apart a Princeton eight admittedly made up of a mix of lower-varsity crews, but one which would still have scared UK rowers in previous years. The Newcastle Island ‘B’ crew were beaten by Nottingham but not by a big margin. Another very successful student club, Edinburgh University, had a quality race against Dutch students Triton in the Prince Albert men’s coxed fours, but lost out by half a length despite closing all the way from the Milepost.
Regatta Chairman Sir Steve Redgrave came out of his office to celebrate his alma mater, Great Marlow School, winning a round of the PE against Monkton Combe School on Tuesday, but that just pitted the state school against the ultimate independent school, Eton, on Wednesday. The Windsorians, who have won the trophy four times in the last ten years, had a length very soon after the island and stretched away from there to set up a Friday match against National Schools winners St Edward’s.
Unless St Paul’s or Shiplake can stand in the tourists’ way it’s looking increasingly likely that either Brisbane Boys (AUS) or Marin (USA) will be the finalists from the top half of the junior men’s draw, while the rest of the Brits fight it out to meet them in the other half. Brisbane are on a charge, it being the 30th anniversary of them defeating Eton in the PE, but Marin want to be the first non-school club to put their name on the prestigious cup, the event having opened up to all juniors this year.
Though the women’s rowing has thus far been less controversial it’s been of excellent quality. Other highlights include Shrewsbury rowing through Godolphin and Latymer to progress in the Prince Philip junior eights, Oxford Brookes’ ‘C’ crew drilling their way through Syracuse to claim a date with the University of Texas Island eight, their second crew behind a first entry in the open Remenham women’s eights.
The early stand-out race in the Wargave women’s club eights was Mortlake Anglian & Alpha racing Cantabrigian, the kind of solid historic club race which has been going on for more than a century in the men’s event. Mortlake got a decent lead by halfway but couldn’t kill off Cantabrigian who hauled them steadily back and made the Londoners fight for every inch of their half-length victory. What is also encouraging is the loud vocal support for the women’s crews, a mark of real parity.
However it was topped late in the day by Nottingham v Upper Thames ‘B’, a stonker in which the Midlands crew led almost all the way before being bested by a perfectly timed finish sprint from the local eight. Upper Thames could not have used better tactics, and now meet Thames ‘D’, though the frighteningly efficient Thames ‘A’ lurk further on in the same corner of their draw.
Neusser’s quartet is a Wyfold four from a Düsseldorf club who missed selection for the German Under-23 team and got to come to Henley as a consolation prize. Having seen off Californians Los Gatos on Tuesday they teased Nottingham by letting the British crew get an early lead then rowing solidly through them at the progress boards, but had to hoick it to rate 42 to claim the win. The eventual margin of 1½ lengths looked easy for the German crew but they won’t be able to leave it as late in future races.
Hannover’s Thames Cup crew had an easier time defeating Leeds, wearing their blue and yellow socks to show their support for the large number of Ukrainian refugees in their club and region. But the Hamburg composite in the Visitors’ was rowed through by an on-song foursome of Cambridge 2023 winning Blues who stormed through them just as the afternoon skies were starting to darken towards rain. Cambridge’s next opposition are Princeton’s 1V and 2V coxless four who could give them more trouble.
Late in the afternoon umpiring Steward Alison Faiers had an appeal from Durham’s Temple Cup crew after they felt crowded by Cornell in their breathless three-foot verdict race. After a lengthy discussion Faiers turned down the appeal — there had been no apparent contact — but nearly forgot to show Cornell and the cameras the white flag for a clean race.
Thursday sees the start of five open women’s events: the Town W4-, Princess Grace W4x, Hambleden Pairs W2-, Stonor W2x and Princess Royal W1x. In most of these the top crews don’t have to race until Friday, but European flatwater and beach sprints medallist and world beach sprints silver medallist Diana Dymchenko, formerly of Ukraine and now rowing for Azerbaijan, will be in action in the singles along with several other internationals.