Welcome to the new world of Henley Royal Regatta, where the time between qualifiers on Friday and the first race in earnest has shrunk to a mere three days. After the echoing strangeness of Saturday’s draw, socially distanced and without spectators to avoid worries of infecting crews with Covid, Sunday and Monday passed in a flash and then it was time for the serious business. A good Wednesday-like crowd turned out along the bank for the first ever Tuesday races at Henley Royal Regatta, though most were not yet out of bed by the time Durham University’s Temple A crew sent Bristol home with a 4.5 length defeat.
Seven events started on Tuesday: the crowdpleasers of the big eights events for schoolboys (Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup) and student men (Temple) along with the ever-exciting Y-fronts (sorry, Wyfold club men’s coxless fours), club men’s coxed fours (Britannia) and three of the quads: junior women’s Diamond Jubilee, junior men’s Fawley, and the club quads Prince of Wales. For the most part selected crews got themselves safely through their first races, the notable exception being Deutsche Hannover’s coxed four who were dumped out of the Britannia by London’s B crew, who earned a Wednesday match against their A crew as a result.
The other selected crew packing their trailer on Tuesday was Cal (University of California Berkeley) whose freshmen crew in the Temple was selected possibly more on their club’s past form as winners of their event than on any wins this season (they haven’t raced as a crew for several months). They were binned by two lengths by a battle-hungry University of British Columbia, the varsity eight of a programme unbeaten in Canada for the last five years, and whose smaller radius of competition means they aren’t banned from the Temple as most US varsity eights would be.
Lea’s day looked as if it was going to turn very difficult when the bolt of their Wyfold coxless four’s steering foot sheared off just before their morning race. Paddling back behind rivals Vesta and given a couple of hours to fix it, they turned disaster into triumph by winning the postponed row by a length and a half. Despite the hefty headwind with fiercely chilly gusts, most of the coxless fours did well with their steering, avoiding the wooden booms which line the course.
Australians King’s School Parramatta, who are over at Henley for only the third time, carry a burden of expectation from their predecessor crews, who won in 2001 (the Princess Elizabeth school eights) and 2006 (the Fawley junior quads). Parramatta, a boarding school luxuriating in hundreds of acres inside Sydney, has been in the news recently because their headmaster apparently turned the Henley Royal trip into a jaunt for him and his deputy and their wives, reportedly booking first-class air tickets (which have subsequently been downgraded to business class) so they can network with top British schools while supporting the King’s Parramatta rowers. The crew, who had to raise money for the trip via sausage sizzles and raffles, promptly demolished the understated opposition put up by Abingdon School, finishing with an ‘easily’ verdict and looking ready to chew more UK schools for breakfast. Their next victims are Hampton, who took out Brooks School USA (not to be confused with Oxford Brookes University, the scourge of many unsuspecting UK university clubs).
There were several red faces around the Royal Regatta when it was realised how fast Winter Park crew USA were in the junior women’s eights, the newly named Prince Philip Challenge Trophy. Winter Park had not raced at the national youth championships in the USA, so had escaped the notice of the selecting Stewards and were made to qualify. This they did, and while qualifying times for those who are successful are kept private, they clearly impressed the Stewards enough to select them at the draw, setting them up to race Tideway Scullers on Wednesday.
Meanwhile off the river there are other questions to answer this week. Will everyone have six changes of dress/blazer/tie? Will Remenham Club run out of Pimms? [And what were the rozzers doing interviewing spectators outside Remenham at 10:10am on Tuesday morning?] How many people in the Enclosures unsuspectingly have Covid this year? And will Oxford Brookes win a trophy for the sixth year running? Wait and see..