An American Muses on Henley Royal Regatta

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Note: This article was originally written for the MIT crew alumninewsletter. Rachel Q. asked if she could copy it onto her web page.So, here is a bit of Henley perspective from across the Atlantic:

The Henley Royal Regatta is surely one of the world's great events ...and not just for the rowing. The opportunity to see English "politesociety" on display provided nearly as much entertainment as theexcellent racing. I wouldn't go so far as the notorious English pressin poking fun, but I must admit to a few chuckles as I watched men andwomen in fine dress cavorting about the regatta. I just returned from atrip to Henley with Gordon Hamilton and his MIT heavyweight varsitycrew. Two of Gordon's men could not go and I was asked to fill out oneof the empty port seats. As a 31 year old doctoral student at MIT, itseemed rather improbable that I would ever row in an undergraduatevarsity boat, but at 3pm on June 28, there I was in the bow seatstraining to hear "Set ... Go!" from the umpire. The call came and thetwo-a-day workouts we had been doing for two and a half weeks were putto the test. I might have been in good head race condition, but theundergraduates had just come off a season of rowing at a 38 through thebody of races, and sprinting in the mid 40's. Four days into thetraining regimen, it was either adapt or die. Happily, I adapted andthe workouts became increasingly tolerable; even the ending sprints.

A fit looking crew from Copenhagen Rowing Club was in the lane tostarboard (Bucks station) that Wednesday afternoon, while we occupiedthe Berkshire station. We went off the line furiously and took a coupleof seats in the first minute. By the Barrier (a bit less than a 1/3 ofthe way), we had taken a three or four seat lead. By Fawley (about halfway), we increased the lead to 6 seats. At this point I was sure wewould win ... then Copenhagen's big move came moments later and theyregained two seats. We responded and again had a six seat lead which wetook to the finish line. I remember thinking how pleased (relieved?!) Iwas that we would be rowing again the next day. At Henley, if you lose,you are out of the game, and half the crews lose every day. So, overfive days of racing, an early loss can put you on the sidelines for avery long time.

The next morning, we pulled up against a local favorite from Wallingfordrowing club. They put up a good fight, but we crossed the line 2 3/4lengths ahead. We began to entertain thoughts of racing through theweekend. All we had to do was get by Goldie from Cambridge University.The next morning, we went out for a brief paddle at 6am and returned to"The Anchorage," where the Drew family hosted us for nine days. Theyhave a lovely home on the Thames River, just moments from the Shiplaketrain station to Henley. The Anchorage proved a most agreeable place tolodge, and was just a short walk away from the pub where we took ourevening meals.

At noon, we pulled up against Goldie. Again, we were on the Berksstation, and Goldie was on the Bucks station. After twenty strokes,Goldie had taken a couple of seats. They were very fast. They tookopen water somewhere around the Barrier. We took it up as much as wecould, but did not regain the lost ground. At the end, four lengthsseparated us, and we took our place among the Pimm's drinking crowd.The transformation from competitor to spectator took about two hours andthree pints. For the rest of the day, I was no longer fit to pull anoar, but I finally had a bit of time to reflect on what had happenedover the past three weeks.

We arrived in England a week and a half earlier after a week of trainingin Boston, and made our way to Cambridge University where we were hostedby the Trinity First and Third Boat Club, and stayed at Trinity College.This was Gordon's club from his time at Cambridge over twenty years ago.It was very lucky for us to be able to share in some of the history ofrowing which was written there, and to live a bit of the pleasant lifeGordon had when he was there. We rowed a Black Prince up and down thenarrow river; the Black Prince was the name of the boat which won thefirst Henley Grand Challenge Cup (the premier event) and has been thename of First and Third boats ever since 1839. At Henley, we were lenta boat by the Sons of the Thames. We host them annually for the Head ofthe Charles in Boston, and they more than return the favor by helpingout when MIT crews come to Henley.

A couple of days into our Cambridge stay, we lost one of our men to aninjury and moved one of our pair oarsmen into the eight. At Henley,this man had to return to the US to attend to urgent family business ...things were looking pretty dark. Our other pair oarsman, a starboard,gamely filled in on port and I began compiling a list of people I mightconvince to fly from MIT on short notice. We lined up a man who trainedwith us for a day, and hoped that our injured oarsman would improvequickly.

One day before racing began, our injured man rejoined the crew, makingthe last of four personnel changes in less than a week. Despite thesechanges, we had a good run at Henley, getting to race three out of thefive days, and losing to what was probably the second fastest crew inthe Thames Cup. I have really enjoyed rowing with and competing againstthe undergraduates over the past several years I have been at MIT. Injust the past few years, I have watched the standards in the sport go updramatically. The difficult challenge for next year's crew, and anyoneelse, is to continue to improve faster than their competition. If MITdoes, and they go to Henley, then they may have to wait until Sunday tohave that pint of Pimm's. I hope to be among the finely dressedSteward's Enclosure spectators to see it happen, or, even better, up inthe bow seat!

Copyright: G. G. Parker, August 6, 1995Email: