The Future of Thames Tideway Eights Racing

4 minute read
Words Jock McKerrell
Photos Benedict Tufnell
Published 05.01.18

There are three head of the river races run on the Thames tideway annually between Chiswick and Putney on weekends in March. They are the Men’s, Women’s, and Veterans’ Heads. The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races are also held at this time – the biggest showcase of our sport.

The three head races are best run on an ebb (outgoing) tide, whereas the Boat Races are on a flood (incoming) tide. So what might be a convenient date and time for a head race, would not be for a Boat Race, and vice versa. This year is especially difficult for the head races because the tide times only make it possible to run their races on the weekends beginning 10th and 24th March.

I would like to ask why it was decided that the Men’s Head is to be run on Sunday 11th March ? This is an extraordinary decision, and I think the first occasion of a Sunday race. These head races have built up well earned international reputations that will suffer untold damage because of this one decision.

Photo Choppy waters during the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race on the Tideway
Credit Benedict Tufnell

Running the Men’s Head on a Sunday will spoil the Women’s Head the day before. The gatherings and parties will be curtailed because there’s another head starting the following morning. And how are they going to persuade the hitherto faithful army of volunteers to get up early and do it all over again two days on the trot ? This will also spoil their aprés row, because next day it’s back to work.

Moving on a fortnight, why couldn’t the Men’s Head have asked for March 24th ? I understand when the Boat Races saw it was available they bagged it. Nothing wrong with that at all, but there must be other dates and times available to them that would not work for a head race. Surely these could have been discussed ?

Photo Crews pas under Hammersmith Bridge in the opposite direction to that of the Boat Races during the Head of the River Race
Credit Benedict Tufnell

The last in this sorry saga is the Veterans’ Head on Sunday 25th March, the morning after the Boat Races and the only available date and time. This race was started when the Men’s Head became over subscribed, to take place the day after, so visiting clubs could make a weekend of it. Not this year they can’t. And to add to the woes, there is of course no boat trailer access to the Putney embankment on Boat Races day, nor on the following morning when their equipment is being dismantled and transported away. So where are the boat trailers to go ? This race will probably suffer the worst.

If the Men’s Head could have been held on 24th March, and the Boat Races could have kindly agreed to another date, it would have all worked out satisfactorily. The Men’s and Women’s Heads wouldn’t have been spoilt, and neither would the Veterans’ Head, being after the Men’s Head as usual.

Let us all hope this sad situation is never repeated.

Jock McKerrell is a member of Vesta Rowing Club based on the Tideway in Putney.