From the Milepost, Steve Fairbairn keeps an eye on The Head of the River Race and also on those many events inspired by it.

 15 March 2018

Tim Koch finds that four heads are better than one.

Many of the unrecognised, unappreciated and unpaid band of men and women who make rowing events happen in London and the South East of England are probably still recovering following five remarkable days of rowing activity before, during and after the weekend of 10/11 March. Because of their tireless efforts, over 13,000 senior and junior oarsmen and oarswomen took part in five major rowing events over five days.

Friday, 9 March: The National Junior Indoor Rowing Championships (NJIRC) was held at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre in North London. The organisers, London Youth Rowing (LYC), claim that

NJIRC is the World’s biggest national indoor rowing competition. The event caters for over 2000 young people aged 11-18…. LYR partners with 76 schools across London….. We are currently working in seventeen London boroughs where we deliver indoor club and on water experiences for over 8,000 young Londoners every year….. We are also proud to present that of our 2000+ competitors, 50% are girls, over 60% are from a minority ethnic background and we cater specifically for those with sensory, learning and physical disabilities. The event really does draw in those young people that would not normally get the opportunity to race at a national event.  

The NJIRC in action. Picture: British Rowing.

Saturday, 10 March: Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (WEHoRR)
The 78th Women’s Head may be a historic one for women’s rowing in Britain as, for the first time, the number of entries exceeded that for the (men’s) Head of the River Race (HoRR). WEHoRR had 319 entries, while the Men’s Eights Head had 313. Ultimately, 300 women’s crews and 303 men’s crews made it to the start line.

The 2018 results are here and the top ten were:

1 Leander Club A 18.34.7 (Head Pennant)
2 Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club A 18.50.2 (University Pennant)
3 Imperial College Boat Club A 19.01.7
4 Molesey Boat Club A 19.03.2 (Club Pennant)
5 University of London Boat Club A 19.05.4
6 Oxford Brookes University Boat Club A 19.13
7 Edinburgh University Boat Club A 19.14
8 Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club B 19.18.3
9 Leander Club B 19.22.1
10 Tideway Scullers School A 19.23.2

Leander A from Hammersmith Bridge. Copyright: Angus Thomas/WEROW.
Cambridge A from Hammersmith Bridge. Copyright: Angus Thomas/WEROW.

Leander A’s win was no surprise as the crew was packed with current GB women’s squad members. Cambridge A should be happy with their second place, as should their B crew, coming 10th and beating Leander B, showing the strength of CUWBC. Oxford’s women did not enter, but they will no doubt be trying to read significance into the fact that Molesey were 13 seconds behind the Cambridge first boat as, on 4 March, Oxford beat Molesey by five lengths in a race from the Boat Race start to Chiswick Steps (though I think that Molesey’s head crew was a stronger one than the line-up that raced the Dark Blues).

The bow pair of Auriol Kensington A. Picture: Christian Harbecke.

The event was actually reported in the online version of the London newspaper The Standard,a rare occurrence these days.

WEHoRR also gets the HTBS stamp of approval for its website’s history section and for its archive of past results.

The calm after the storm – taking in the boat after the race. Picture: Raphaël Ricklin.

I was unable to take pictures as I was driving a marshall’s launch, but two fellow members of Auriol Kensington RC have kindly allowed me to use some of their photographs from the weekend and WEROW has made many of their excellent images free to download.

Sunday, 11 March: Head of the River Race 

Blades at Hammersmith, ready to do battle. Picture: Christian Harbecke.
Caius College, Cambridge, boating from the Furnivall Sculling Club pontoon.
The Furnivall pontoon is particularly busy as it’s neighbour, Auriol Kensington, has a raft best suited for fours and small boats only.
Robinson College, Cambridge, pass under Hammersmith Bridge on the way to the start.

HTBS liked the final decision as to who went ‘Head’ at the 81st Head of the Rive Race as it gave us a chance to go back in time, to the second HoRR in 1927 to be precise, the last year that two crews drew for the top place. Ninety-one years ago, London and Thames shared the honours, this year it was Oxford Brookes and Leander, both recording 17.27.7 for the 4 1/4 miles/6.8 kms. Race Chairman, Ben Helm, said, ‘After reviewing the camera recording, the conclusion was that the crews could not be separated with 100% confidence and a dead heat was declared’. Thus, it was only semi-revenge for Leander, who lost to Brookes in 2016, the last time the race was run. WEROW’s take on this is here.

Brookes A crosses the finish line.
Leander A is done.
The joint winners (as they discovered some hours later).

The first ten places were:

1 Oxford Brookes A and Leander A, both 17.27.7
3 Oxford Brookes B 17.44.7
4 Leander C 17.51.9
5 Oxford Brookes C 17.55.9
6 University of London A 17.57.8
7 Thames A 18.12.6
8 Molesey A 18.14.3
9 Imperial College A 18.14.3
10 Edinburgh University A 18.16.9

The finish viewed from Putney Bridge.
A Thames cox shows her colours.
The journey home, nice if you boat from Putney, not so good if you boat from Mortlake.

Oxford Brookes crews came 1, 3, 5, 11, 17 and 34 – the words ‘strength’ and ‘depth’ spring to mind. As WEROW says, ‘Brookes rowers impress on every front….’ The full results are on the HoRR website.

There was much speculation on the towpath and in surrounding bars on the reduced numbers this year. There were only 313 entries, part of a slow downward trend. 2008 was the last year that the maximum number, 420, was reached. A common opinion is that this is due to the number of times that the event has been cancelled recently because of poor conditions: 2004, 2007, 2013, 2014 and 2017 (previous to 2004, the only peacetime cancellation was in 1937, then due to lack of suitable tides). Perhaps this view is given credence by the fact that entries for the Women’s Head have been stable for some years and that the WEHoRR has only been cancelled once (2002) in modern times as the weather gods seem to look more kindly on the women’s race than on the men’s.

When the legendary coach, Steve Fairbairn, wrote letters like this in 1926, suggesting ‘winter Head of the River races’, he could not have imagined what he was starting. However, ‘Steve’ held that ‘milage makes champions’ and said that, ‘It is not a race, it is merely a means of getting crews to do long rows’. All the results since the first Tideway Head of the River are archived on the HoRR website.

Monday, 12 March: Schools’ Head of the River Race
The Schools’ Head of the River Race (SHoRR) is, like the men’s and women’s heads, run over the Putney to Mortlake course. It is organised by Westminster School and is for boys and girls aged between 14 and 18 in eights, coxed fours and coxless quads. Composite crews, drawn from more than one club or school, are not permitted. This year, 356 crews entered.

I was again driving a marshall’s launch and so only managed to take a few pictures. Here the crews are racing under Hammersmith Bridge, cheered on by those parents who braved the wet weather.

It was no surprise that the currently all-conquering St Paul’s School won the Boys’ Championship Eights, 20 seconds ahead of the next crew and in a remarkable record time of 16.40. Six crews contested the Girls’ Championship Eights and the winner, by over 11 seconds, was Henley RC. The other Championship Eights winners were, for the boys, Westminster School in J16 and Aberdeen Schools Rowing Association in J15. In Championship quads, the winners were the Latymer girls (beating Gloucester Hartpury) and the Maidenhead boys. A mention should go to the Eton crew that won the School 2nd Eights – but in the fourth fastest time of the whole day, 17.11.

The race in progress passing St Paul’s School in Hammersmith.

Eleven schools or clubs were victorious in one event, four won two, and one, Henley RC, were winners in four races. The full results of the fifteen events for boys and eight events for girls are on the SHoRR website.

Tuesday, 13 March: Scullery at Dorney Lake (aka The Oarsport Junior Sculling Head).

Image: Oarsport.

Amazingly, 567 young crews sculled the London 2012 Olympic course, some having raced at the Schools Head the day before. The Scullery started in 2006 and is ‘an independent organisation dedicated to the support and development of junior sculling at all levels in the United Kingdom’. It also runs a Junior Sculling Regatta at Dorney in May. The 2018 Head results are on the event website.

The final words on five terrific days for British rowing go to the HoRR:

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