By William O’Chee
HTBS contributor William O’Chee goes exploring at Henley Royal Regatta to document what happens beyond the Stewards’ Enclosure.
For many people, the Stewards’ Enclosure is the Holy of Holies at Henley Royal Regatta, and indeed it has charms most sporting events do not. However, there are many other worlds to discover along the regatta’s 2,112m course, without which Henley would not be the unique and intoxicating event it is.
One of these is the start. Although the Henley regatta course allows the crowds to get much closer to the crews than most venues, for much of its length the towpath is separated from the boom by a transit lane. At the start, however, the crews are so close to the bank that it almost feels possible to reach out and touch the oars.
The start attracts all sorts of spectators, from the highly knowledgeable to the thoroughly bemused, and everyone in between. Because of the closeness of the crews to the bank, it rewards the informed photographer.
Besides proximity, one of the attractions of the start is the chance to have a good look at the crews, as well as the ritual and drama that occurs on the start line.
Perhaps the most under-appreciated people at the regatta are the boys who hold the sterns of the boats on the starting pontoons. They spend most of the day lying face down looking at the water, taking their instructions from two Stewards in the aligner’s tent.
This being Henley, the Stewards do not speak directly with the boys on the starting pontoons.
That task is delegated to a Stewards’ assistant, who also is given the task of updating results sheets taped to the side of the aligner’s tent in between races.
Races at Henley are started, as they have been since 1869, by an umpire in a launch. These glorious boats are perhaps the most elegant launches to be found at any regatta in the world. They are most definitely the most venerable. The oldest launch in operation is the Consuta, which was launched in 1898. Most of those at the regatta are based on the 1928 Amaryllis, which itself still in service.
While the umpire’s launches are charming and elegant, the start is all about power and aggression. Nowhere else can you get as close to the start as at Henley. To see the crews go side by side, their catches clapping the water, white water bubbling from the puddles as they ring off the spoons is a true joy.
Photography © William O’Chee.