Wibble about Henley

Written on the Friday before the main races, 1995.Copyright Rachel Quarrell, 1995.

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It is worth coming over for the whole of Henley one year. The firstweek beforehand is like one long beach party, more and more crews moving up tothe stretch, and the boat tents getting busier and busier. People have beendeliberately coming down an hour early for outings (when else does that happen)to sit in the sun and watch everything. It is a heatwave this weekend, andtotally glorious weather. The tow path is open all down its length, includingthrough the Stewards (although you can't go on their bit of grass withoutoffending the security officials). I would love to be down there tonight forthe qualifiers, and watch everyone: you can watch from anywhere. When fastcrews have to qualify, owing to a large entry or general bad luck, then a fleetof coaches follow them, stopwatches in hand, and get all their times to theknown markers (Barrier, Fawley, Remenham). That will be happening in theBritannia Cup right now. Over the weekend things will pick up and get more andmore busy, with clubs going out twice or three times a day. By Saturdayevening the non-qualifiers have left, and the draw done, so the boat racks areallocated, and much pushing and shoving while everyone moves around to get tothe right place. Then they settle in again for the next week, andMonday/Tuesday is training in earnest, the town full of oarsmen, and thegirlfriends slowly banished for the final few days. All the UK crews move in,and the supermarkets are full of pasta-buyers. Then Tuesday night is quiet forthe oarsmen, rowdy for coaches and Stewards, having a quick few halves beforethe first racing. First day is a bit like a helter-skelter regatta, and insome events half the crews are ejected from the contest and get royally drunkin the Stewards and the local pubs that night. Thursday is like the second dayof a regatta, but after that the atmosphere gets more and more special. Peoplestill racing on Friday night feel quite good about it, and if you get to theweekend, you are there with the big boys. The course marshalling rules switcharound on Friday lunch-time, and again for the finals on Sunday: there is,apparently, nothing to beat the feeling of rowing directly back down the coursefor your warm-up, which you are allowed to do for some of the finals on thelast day. Especially if you then row back again in front, the whole of theStewards standing cheering. In the excellent piece about Steve and Matt inthis month's Regatta magazine, Steve says its like being in a football stadiumand I know what he means.