Rowing History Footnote: HRR – Not a Water Picnic!

From The Graphic, 9 July, 1887.

In the report for the 1898 Henley Royal Regatta, the Henley Stewards expressed concerns about the ‘pleasure boats’ at the regatta. They wrote in their report:

‘The committee have to record, with great regret, that in several races the competitors were obstructed by a mass of boats protruding on the course, and in one instance by a punt drifting, through incompetent management, on to the course. The Committee feel that protection must be afforded to competitors, and, if necessary, the course must be boomed on both sides and pleasure-boats prohibited from going on the course during the Regatta. Such action would be reluctantly taken be the Committee, as it would curtail the pleasure of the majority who manage their boats efficiently, and with due regards to the best interest of the regatta, which exists for boat-racing, and not as a mere water picnic.’

For the 1899 Henley Royal Regatta, on 5-7 July, the Stewards had ordered there to be booms placed on each side of the race course to avoid pleasure boats and punts drifting out in front of the crews racing, which had in the past ruined the day for many good oarsmen. One of these unlucky oarsmen had been the young Guy Nickalls (then rowing for Magdalen College, Oxford), who, in 1887, raced in his first Diamonds event, in the final against James Cardwell Gardner of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.

Amongst the spectators that year was the Prince and Princess of Wales with a Royal party on a boat which got surrounded by small boats and punts (see on top). These crafts soon took over half the course on one spot, so the unfortunate Nickalls, racing on the Berks side, rowed right into the Royal enthusiasts and crashed his shell. He was not offered a re-start.

Sandow’s Magazine of Physical Culture, founded by Eugen Sandow, ‘the strong man’, reported that houseboat owners at Henley produced ‘a chorus of groans and complaints’ as they saw the new booms ‘as a bar to the success of the meeting [the regatta]’. However, there were some places were sliding booms allowed the pleasure boats to pass on and off the course between the races. The Field later reported that ‘the booms were a splendid success.’ The regatta set a record when it came to attendance as more than 12,000 people arrived by train for the last day’s races.

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