The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Dawn at Henley Royal 2012

Posted by rowingvoice on June 27, 2012

The royal rowbarge Gloriana

Henley-on-Thames, Wednesday 27 June

Geese and Greenwich mean time

At 5.50 a.m. the sculler from El Salvador, Vargas Paloma, paddled gently downstream past the enclosure, her blue and white striped blades reflecting perfectly the striped façade of the boat tents.  The lawn was dewy in perfect mown lanes. It was warm and still under wafting light grey clouds, tinged with the salmon of sunrise. This is the best moment of the first day of HRR, before the crowds arrive and the racing starts. Then a tractor drove onto the lawn hauling a trailer stacked with deckchairs, and  the litter gatherers began to set them out.

The first launch of the day slides towards the start with umpire Smallbone and chairman Sweeney standing behind the driver and noting anything out of order. A radio message comes in to commentator Blandford-Baker that the quarter mile signal has nobody manning it for the first race. ‘We’ll have to wing it.’ Recorders Cadbury and Jabale fiddle around with their timepieces and the pro-formas they will fill in to report the details of the first race of 2012 Henley — a heat of the Thames Cup between  Greenwich’s Curlew Rowing Club A crew and, Sod’s Law of the Draw, Curlew Rowing Club B crew. Sweeney is suspicious that he has seen no Canada geese. A little further on, a meadow comes into view that is a mass of Canadian geese. They are being watched by the crew of a small catamaran armed with sliced loafs. The traffic lights telling the umpire that the course is clear are not working.

Precisely at 8.30 am, Smallbone begins the starting ritual for the two Curlews, having requested, firmly, an Eton crew to back off from the downstream end of the start pontoon.  The Eton shell is named Constantine Louloudis after the injured stroke of the GB national eight. A lone figure in the little stand overlooking the start is Charlie Wiggin, commentator for Regatta Radio. Are you ready, Go! says Smallbone, and off they set. The ‘A’ crew on Bucks streaks away and soon builds a commanding lead.

There is one occupied boat moored on the booms opposite the enclosures. The occupant is the likely lad Rodney Bewes, London RC’s most regular supporter, and he waves to the first umpire’s launch of the day.

There is a new results board in the style of a cricket scoreboard. Gone are the ropes that operated it like a dumb waiter, replaced by hinged doors displaying lengths and time like a conjurer’s magic box. The operatives have not mastered the hinges yet, and some confusion reigns.

One thing that’s different this year is the over-gilt presence of Gloriana, a million quid’s worth of a gilded 18-oar barge, a replica of a seventeenth century stretch limo that will get an outing in the lunch break on Sunday. Rumour has it that Mark Edward’s magnificent vessel has twin engines fitted to supplement oars. Were they engaged when Gloriana led the Diamond Jubilee pageant on the Thames?

Steward Topolski is wearing a new hat this year as he supervises activity round the boat tents. On Tuesday he was awarded the British Association of Rowing Journalists’ Journalist of the Year award for his commentaries on the BBC.

Christopher Dodd


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