The first day of Henley Royal Regatta sees 178 crews take to the water in a year where various records have already fallen. The event has seen a staggering 629 boat entry, eclipsing the previous record by 77 entires, with 27 nations registered for the Regatta on Monday 13th June. Several notable scalps were claimed at last Friday’s qualifying races, before the Regatta draw threw up some mouthwatering first-day clashes.
The opening race on Wednesday will see Waikato Rowing Club, national club champions in their native New Zealand, face off against Putney-based London Rowing Club ‘B’. Antipodean presence at the Regatta has always been substantial, and Sydney Rowing Club are one of Henley’s staunchest supporters. The Australian club are entering their first Thames Cup crew in 17 years. They are due to race at 9.00 am on Wednesday morning, and cox Kendall Brodie was excited for the challenge ahead. “Preparation has been going well,” she said. “We’ve been adjusting to a Hudson as our original Empacher shell wasn’t big enough, but our work in Australia was really good. We love racing at Henley as it’s a great experience and a draw-card for our recruitment program.”
The Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup has had its capacity extended to 16 crews for this year in a record-breaking entry. The first race of the category pits holders, Gloucester Rowing Club, against potential challengers, Glasgow Schools’ Rowing Club, the latter of whom won junior quads at Henley Women’s Regatta. Meanwhile, larger quotas mean a wider appeal and Pangbourne College girl’s squad are competing in their first ever Henley Royal Regatta. “We expect close racing and fantastic crowds as we’ve never rowed on this scale before,” said the crew. “The added bonus of Henley is that, even if our family and friends can’t make it to Regatta, they can watch the fantastic coverage on YouTube.”
The racing continues at an exhilarating pace through the day, with domestic favourites Oxford Brookes taking on Holland’s K.S.R Njord in the Temple Challenge Cup at 10:30 am. As is often the case, the event for student eights was heavily over-subscribed and Wednesday also pits junior varsity champions Harvard against the University of Michigan ‘A’, who were winners at the National Invitational Rowing Championships.
The Thames Challenge Cup contains crews from China, Switzerland, Australia, Holland, Germany, Norway, Ireland and the USA. University Barge Club were semi-finalists in this event last year and they face London Rowing Club ‘A’ at midday. Swiss national champions SeeClub Luzern start their Regatta campaign against Ursus Boat Club twenty minutes beforehand.
In the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup for schoolboy eights, old rivals renew acquaintances as all 32 crews take to the water. Winners in 2015, St Paul’s School of Hammersmith, London, open the defence of their title against the Windsor Boys School at 4:05 pm. “We found it a little difficult to get the blend right at the National Schools’ Regatta, but it’s coming together now,” explained coach Bobby Thatcher. St Paul’s finished a disappointing fifth at the three-day event in May, but Thatcher believes the crew have rediscovered their mojo. “We’ve been concentrating on our boat and we believe in our philosophy. It’s all about stepping on from here.”
The club fours have played host to an incredible depth and breadth of entry, but it may be the domestic crews who stand the best chance in this event – The Tideway Scullers School were finalists in the 2014 and 2015 Wyfold Challenge Cups and are back for another crack this year. They begin their campaign at 3:15 pm against Lady Elizabeth Boat Club of Ireland.
Northwich Rowing Club supporters will be split on Wednesday lunchtime as their A and B crews meet in the first round of the Fawley Challenge Cup. The category will not see the full contingent of crews on the opening day, as eight selected boats are granted automatic passage to the Thursday.