Henley Royal: Saturday 3rd July

The Rowing Service

Saturday: champagne, champions and crashes

After a Friday of blistering sunshine, Henley Saturday dawned much cooler, with a frisky cross-head wind gusting to storm force for a minute or two at times. Rain-sodden enclosures dampened the spectators' spirits at first, but they soon settled into booze-and-gossip mode, while the racing began for the places in semis and finals.

The Queen Mother saw Augusta Sculling Center's 'A' quad barging past British opposition to their semi. Much later in the day the American selected crew then met Ooostende & Liege from Belgium, took an early lead and then rowed well away from the Europeans in an increasingly stiffening head-wind. The Tideway Scullers School/NCRA composite beat the second American quad, and went on to duel with Hamburg during the afternoon.

Next up in the morning, London and Molesey had a gigantic battle in the Thames Cup. Molesey took an early lead, of half a length by the quarter-mile, pushing it out to 3/4 as they reached the Barrier. Here London counter-attacked, just as the stream began to favour their black-and-white opposition. This reduced the Molesey lead to quarter of a length again, and although they drew it back to 1/2, they could not get clear. As the two famous club crews reached the Enclosures, and the roars went up, both began to lift it for home. London, defending their Thames Cup title of last year, got back to within a canvas; Molesey raised their rate again; both crews were struggling hard, and the stream began to help London again. Molesey threw in one last frantic effort, and by the Progress Boards it was clear that they could taste victory, passing the finish line one-quarter of a length to the good.

The drama of the morning was very nearly a disaster. During the warm-up for their respective events, Gorge RC/St. Catharine's Ladies' eight were spinning up to 40 in a 10-stroke burst, when their cox yelled a stop. He wasn't quite in time: coming the other way, in a full-pressure start, was the double of Conal Groom and Rob Tucker, and the eight slammed straight into them. The half-second of warning may well have saved Groom's life, since in the end he was only badly bruised and shaken. Instead the Carl Douglas bow rigger of the Resolute eight slit the Aylings double like a tin-opener, and the wrecked shell was brought back to the boat-tents on the umpire's 100-foot launch. Most badly hurt was the Canadian bow-man, who took the punishment which only bounced off his shell. He was taken to Reading Hospital for an X-ray, and was not certain if he would be able to compete in the rescheduled race. The warm-up area at Henley is not wide, and hit by continual wash from the processing cruisers: it is difficult to see which crew was at fault, but in any case all parties are more concerned with the oarsmen's health.

Later in the evening they finally went down to race, with Trevor Petersen, the cox, almost standing in the cox's seat, to check that he wasn't about to have another collision as the crew manoeuvred between the booms and the cruisers. Sadly, despite a terrific fight, in a harsh headwind and on the Bucks station, the lightweight Canadians were unable to rattle Cambridge's almost-Blue-Boat, and the Tabs held off a spirited challenge in the Enclosures to go and meet the U. Cal. Berkeley US West Coast champions in the Ladies' Plate on Sunday.

The Brit semi's were not particularly concerning to the favourites, Isis disposing of a feisty Lea crew, and Molesey taking in the sights while steadily pulling away from Worcester. For a coxed four's race, however, Molesey displayed some atrocious steering: the four was slap bang in the middle of the course for most of the second half. If it was unconscious, then the cox has a nasty case of boom-phobia, while if it was intentional, Molesey should have known better than to be so ungenerous. They were completely in charge of the race and had no need to wash down Worcester, who were already behind and on the disadvantaged station.

The Temple quarterfinals saw Imperial see off the Dutch threat from Nereus, and Harvard's freshmen make a best fist of the head-wind, despite a slick start from their opposition, Dartmouth. Cambridge University (Goldie) made short work of Trinity College Dublin's 'A' crew, and Princeton battled hard to maintain a short lead over Oxford Brookes, despite being on the disfavoured Bucks station. The semi-finals are rowed on Sunday morning, before a late final that afternoon.

In the Wyfold Challenge Cup, selected crew Holme Pierrepont 'A' left the Clyde Amateurs trailing in their competent wake. In the other half of the draw, despite erratic steering from Llandaff, who had put out the other HP crew earlier, they managed a comfortable win over the Lea, the boys in orange pushing hard right up to the finish line, but making no impression.

The Visitor's treated us to a couple of grudge matches, Imperial versus Durham in the morning, and an OUBC/Oxford Brookes derby in the evening. Imperial were able to dominate Durham despite the latter's best efforts, and Brookes took an early half-length lead over OU, which they were able to consolidate late in the race, though never really to relax. By now there was a ferocious headwind, and both crews' rates suffered as they leaned back into it through Remenham. At the finish, despite a controversial recent interview with Brookes coach Richard Spratley, both crews were generously sportsmanlike in congratulating each other.

In the Fawley semifinals Leander and Tiffin rowed emphatically away from Winchester College, dashing the schoolboys' hopes of finishing the decade as their predecessors had started it, as finalists. Then Burway and Walton's composite had a tight race with the Windsor Boys' 'A' quad, but kept them off by a length. Despite worsening conditions, it's clear the faster Leander time shows their quality, and money has to be on them for the final, although it is a shame that they are still entering clubs in junior events under the Pink banner.

US star sculler Jamie Koven moved on to his appointment in the final, this year not against Greg Searle, who was well beaten by the German squad sculler Marcel Hacker. Searle is still recovering from illness and injury which lasted until late April, seriously denting his winter training. However, Hacker had a pretty easy time of it, and Searle's technique was suffering as well, when he was down and feeling the German's wash.

British squad followers might have hoped for an entertaining first-half of the Stewards race pitting Molesey/Star against the Redgrave "Fab Four". Molesey's Jonny Searle was a predecessor of Leander stroke Matthew Pinsent at Oxford, they all know each other well, and there were a few hopes on the bank that the outsiders would rattle the World Cup champions' cage for a few hundred metres at least. No chance - Pinsent and co. took off like bullets, grabbed a lead of 3/4 length by the quarter-mile, and continued to race hard until Fawley, when they dropped to around 30 and ambled leisurely along through the Enclosures. Tomorrow they have a rematch, this time on the outside station, against the Danish world champion lightweight coxless four, who gave them a good run for their money last year.

Some of the best racing so far has been seen in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup for school eights. In the battle of the saints, St. Paul's from London took an early lead off St. Peter's from Australia, but the visitors levelled just before the Barrier, and then moved inch by inch away, pushed, but not stretched to the limit. Tomorrow they meet the Davids of the contest: unseeded St. Edward's School, who have rubbed out in turn the top, third and second-fastest UK schools (Hampton, Radley and Abingdon). I don't think Teddies could possibly be scared of anything now - they have won from being up, down and on both stations, and unless St. Peter's can drop them for dead, they cannot be ruled out.

Copyright Rachel Quarrell, 1999