27 March 2017
In a preface Tim Koch writes:
I started to write this post before the 2017 Head of the River Race was cancelled. My intention was to report on the four major ‘head races’ held on the Thames Tideway in March in one article titled, ‘Four Heads Are Better Than One’. I am continuing with this idea – even though the piece is now one race shorter that I expected.
Unlike Julius Caesar, I rather look forward to the Ides of March. It marks the mid-point of the third month of the year, a time when there are many indications that the end of the dreary winter period is just about in sight and that the summer regatta season is on the horizon. There are at least three pointers to this eagerly anticipated time: the announcement of the crews and the weigh in for the Oxford–Cambridge Boat Race takes place; members of Stewards’ Enclosure and of Leander Club receive their badges for Henley; and, in the space of two weeks, four major British ‘head races’ take place over the Thames Championship Course, Mortlake to Putney. Rather like the ancient joke, ‘old statisticians never die – they just get broken down by age and sex’, this quartet of time trials is respectively for senior women’s eights, senior men’s eights, veterans’/masters’ eights and, finally, juniors. The veteran and the junior events are open to both genders and the youngsters’ race accepts a variety of boat types, not just eights. This year the Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (WEHoRR) was scheduled for 11 March, the Schools’ Head of the River Race (SHORR) for 23 March, the (men’s) Head of the River Race (HoRR) for 25 March and the Vesta Veterans International Eights Head of the River Race for 26 March.
The Women’s Eights Head of the River Race
There are no pictures of the WEHoRR from me as I was a participant, not an observer. I coxed a boat that finished a rather lowly 252 out of 295 (though this was nothing to do with the steering). Embarrassingly, we were 40 seconds slower than the now famous University of Bristol ‘C’ crew. Despite starting 51, Leander produced the fastest boat on the day, covering the 6.8km course under good conditions in a time of 18 minutes 13 seconds. The pennant winners are listed on the official website as are the full results.
The Schools’ Head
The SHORR, organised by Westminster School, is for boys and girls aged between 14 and 18 years old from both school boat clubs and rowing clubs. Composite crews, drawn from more than one club or school, are not permitted and the race offers a large number of events.
For the boys’ eights in the J18, J16 and J15 age groups, there are categories for ‘Championship Eights’ and 1st, 2nd and, in the case of J18s, 3rd Boats. Boys can also race coxless quads at J18 and J16 and coxed fours at J18, J 16 and J15. There are girls’ events for eights at J18 (Championship and 1st Boat), J16 and J15. Girls’ coxless quads and coxed fours are offered at J18 and J16. There is also a mixed coxless quad event.
The distance is usually a fractionally shortened full Mortlake to Putney course, truncated a little as the finish is the boathouse flagpole of organisers, Westminster School. However, race day 2017 saw strong winds and rough water, with conditions particularly poor over the final two-thirds of the distance, and a last minute decision was made to make the finish the bandstand at Dukes Meadows, changing the fastest crew’s expected finish time from sub-eighteen to sub-five minutes. All the parents that were gathered at Putney and Hammersmith to spectate had to suddenly and quickly make their way towards Chiswick and Mortlake. The resulting movement along the towpath looked like a flight of refugees, albeit in this private school dominated event, one composed of higher-rate taxpayers clad in decaying Barbour jackets and accompanied by corpulent Labradors.
In the Boy’s Championship Eights, the finish order for the first four was the same as the start order (Westminster, Shiplake, St Paul’s, Eton) but, when the times were calculated, Shiplake was placed first with a time of four minutes fifty seconds, followed by Eton, then St Paul’s, then Westminster.
In the Girls’ Championship Eights, Headington School won in five minutes twenty-five seconds, closely followed by Henley RC. Full results are on the official website.
The Head of the River Race
As we know, this year’s Men’s Eights Head was cancelled. The Women’s Head, usually held two weeks earlier, often experiences better weather conditions. In 2018, both events will be held on the same weekend (Women on Saturday and Men on Sunday) – so perhaps the women’s luck will rub off on the men. For a view on what may have been, see ‘Fatsculler’, Daniel Spring’s predictions made before the cancellation decision.
The Vesta Veterans International Eights Head of the River Race
Perhaps out of respect for the age of the competitors, the Weather Gods provided good conditions for the Veterans’ Head. Temperatures were 15℃/59℉ and, while there was some wind, this was largely mitigated by the fact that the race was on a rising tide.
There were 235 entries, 32 of them from abroad. Italy had the largest number of foreign crews with seven, Germany six, France four, the United States and Denmark both three, Switzerland two, and one each from Poland, Hungary and Norway.
The results are here, showing the Thames RC Masters A crew as the overall winner. For those that did not do so well, they can at least comfort themselves with the rowing veterans’ refrain, ‘The older I get, the better I was’.