What an epic regatta! Probably the best since the club won the Wyfolds back in 1995. Agonising to come so close (3/4 of a length) to repeating that triumph but that is the risk you take by putting yourself out there.
We had eight crews entered in the regatta: Wyfold coxless four; Thames Cup A eight; Thames Cup B eight; Britannia A coxed four; Britannia B coxed four; Hambleton women’s coxless pair; Fawley junior boys quad; Junior girls quad
If my maths is correct that’s a total of forty two people. Possibly the biggest single entry the club has ever put in. We had five crews pre qualified and of those three were considered fast enough to be seeded; the Wyfold four and both the junior quads. Another club first I think.
Four crews were asked to attend the qualifying races on Friday. The Brit A boat claimed one of the only four remaining spots in the main draw. However, three other boats fell at this hurdle. The women’s pair found the open pairs competition tough going but raced well in some rarified company. The Thames Cup B crew were the fastest non qualifier. The Britannia B boat now know what they have to do in 2020 to make the main draw.
That left the Wyfold coxless four, Thames cup eight A crew, Brit A coxed four, Fawley junior boys quad and the junior girls quad all racing in the main regatta. Excellent stuff.
The Thames Cup eight was the mens third ranked boat and it was really mission accomplished for crew and coach, Gill Parker, just by pre qualifying for the regatta. Nearly twenty years ago Greg at stroke was due to race at Henley in a South African schoolboy crew but plans unravelled so it was especially sweet for him to be able to race this year. The crew were unfortunate to draw a very strong Dutch crew, Okeanos, in the first round. It was only a small consolation that the Dutch went on to win the whole event. I am sure this taste of the regatta will have wetted their appetite for more. (As an aside regarding Okeanos, quite what a crew containing five full time students was doing in a club event is perhaps something known only to the Henley Stewards ...)
The Brit A four, Sammy, Hugh, Chris and Alex, our second ranked boat, had a frustrating run up to Henley but battled through and made it into the regatta as one of only ten UK coxed fours in the event. We drew a seeded German student crew in round one. The guys gave them a very tough race and it could have gone either way but they went down fighting by just over a length. (As an aside, quite what a full student crew was doing in a club event is, well ... something known only to the Henley Stewards ...)
This left the Wyfold boat of Callum, Ryan, John and Harrison. Hopes were high of a return to the winning podium. We had proven ourselves to be the fastest GB based crew in the draw and a really good season had yielded excellent results at all the major regatta's and a particularly memorable win at Ghent International. We were seeded which meant we were unlikely to meet really rapid crews until later in the draw. However, every crew represented a challenge and anything can happen at Henley, particularly in the coxless four event.
First up were an experienced crew from Rex Boat Club, Kings School Chester alumni who had also rowed at Newcastle United and Durham Uni in their time. It proved a good nerve settler as Rex went hard off the line having a little steering wiggle in the process but Callum was able to hold his line well and allow the crew to pull away and then relax. First hurdle cleared. The trick at Henley is to conserve energy in the early rounds so being able to paddle over the second half of the course on Wednesday is exactly what you want. Henley is the only competition where you race every day over five days. This doesn't happen at any world championships or the Olympics and its tough dealing with adrenaline and the physical and mental effort over such a prolonged period. A good draw is crucial to success.
Second up were a decent crew from Marlow Rowing Club. They had a tough first round against Bristol so we knew their strategy would be to go out hard rather than try and row us down. Their steering suffered however and there was a significant blade clash within the first minute which was entirely their fault. Harrison managed to put up his hand whilst not missing a beat. John and Callum on bowside kept their cool and held onto their blades and we came out on top of the clash. All the practice of hitting barges on the Lea paid off! The guys found their rhythm quickly after the clash and simply rowed away from Marlow.
Third up was a fast crew rowing under the name of Team Keane. A quick examination of the crew order and coach revealed this to be an ex Tideway Scullers outfit remarkably similar to the line ups that had made the semis and final of this event over the past few seasons. Toughest and most experienced opposition yet. Whilst put together rather late in the season this crew had been getting faster each race and we knew they wouldn't let up over the second half. It took a little longer to establish control of the race but once again mission accomplished.
Then, on Saturday, came the race we had been looking for all season. Sydney Rowing Club Australia were the favourites for the event containing as it did some (British) ex junior world champions. Despite this we were confident we could win. Times recorded in earlier rounds had been nearly identical. One rare mistake by the Henley timing team had Sydney reaching the Barrier in 1 min 49 seconds on Friday (inside the 1989 record!) However their coach told the Henley crew control that the time was actually 1 min 59, the same as ours. We knew this to be the case since we had timed it too. In fact all our intermediate times for the early rounds had been almost identical. We knew that the winner of this race would probably go on to win the final on Sunday. ( and so it proved)
Sydney blasted out of the blocks, but so did we. They held the rate and power slightly longer than us and took about a length by the barrier. At this point, and at other points in the race too, Sydney moved over to the middle of the course so as to send their strokeside puddles down onto our bowside blades thus disrupting our rhythm and giving our bowside blades dirty water and less grip. They were warned each time and had to move back, and each time they did so we moved back up on them. This is essentially the difference between racing at Henley and racing a six lane buoyed course. Getting in front early is a huge advantage as you can disrupt the other crew if you know how to push the rules to their limit. Sydney did just that. The boys kept pushing and closing the gap but sadly we ran out of water and we're beaten by 3/4 of a length after throwing everything at them. It was a difficult end to an excellent and hugely rewarding season. (As an aside ... quite what four full time students at Sydney University were doing in a club event is, well ... once again ... something only known to the Henley Stewards ...)
Both junior quads also made it through to the semi finals. The boys going down to Leander and the girls to a much heavier (over two stone per person!) Shrewsbury School. Both junior quads raced extremely well with gutsy feisty performances, pushing high quality boats hard all the way down the course. A credit to themselves and the club.
We did have one Lea R.C. blazer on the winners podium, worn by the Argentinian pair who triumphed in the open pairs event, the Silver Goblets, as coached by our Director of Junior Rowing, Martin Cambareri. Our crews had benefitted from training with them for three weeks in the run up to the regatta and it was great to see their pair and double racing so well in the international events.
So an excellent regatta and a fitting finale to a long tough season. Thanks to Nigel and Gill for all the hard work and advice. At Henley in particular it felt like a very strong coaching team. Thanks also to every Lea athlete, they trained hard and raced hard (and partied quite hard too). Personally I feel gutted and proud in equal measure. A tough regatta to come down from. Hard for the athletes and for the coaches too. Now thoughts turn to next season and the challenge is to go even faster!
Men’s Head Coach