The 2020 Fours Head: Business as Usual… Almost… Probably

Not this year. Crews in the 2017 Fours Head pass under Hammersmith Bridge on their way to the start.

25 September 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch wonders if he sees light at the end of the tunnel – or just a train coming the other way.

The people that organise our sport are like the parents of teenagers; they commit themselves to a lot of time, trouble and stress and, in return, receive little due gratitude – and much unjustified criticism –  from those who most benefit from their actions. For the men and women currently attempting to run rowing events, Covid-19 has obviously multiplied the usual problems and, for those trying to hold races over the Putney – Mortlake ‘Boat Race’ course in particular, the closure of Hammersmith Bridge to river traffic has added to the madness. However, in these strange times we all adapt and carry on (though few would be surprised if we soon suffered the Ten Plagues of Egypt complete with rivers turning to blood, swarms of locusts and storms of hail and fire).

Many rowers seem to think that events such as the Fours Head ‘just happen’. These are the people who attended the 2019 pre-race umpires’ briefing, only some of those who are needed to organise and run a major Head Race. Picture: @HoR4s

The stalwarts that run the Fours Head (the November time trial for fours and quads run in normal times over the Mortlake to Putney course with a maximum of 520 entries) recently put out the following statement on their website:

The Fours Head Committee met (on 20 September via Zoom) and remain committed to holding an event on 22 November if possible.

We expect that Hammersmith Bridge will still be closed to boats going underneath it on race day. Therefore we are planning for a smaller event, up-river of Hammersmith, on a shorter course of about 3.1 miles approximately between Kew Railway Bridge and Sons of the Thames RC.

The Fours Head can only take place if British Rowing’s Return to Rowing guidance has moved to Phase H. This is currently scheduled for 10 October…

Putney Embankment as it usually looks during a major head race on the Tideway, this picture taken in 2017. Strangely, if the 2020 Fours Head takes place in the form expected, entries from the Putney clubs (such as Thames RC and London RC) will have the status of ‘visiting crews’ and will have to find ‘host clubs’ upstream of Hammersmith Bridge to boat from.

The Fours Head Committee statement continues:

We are also aware that the Covd-19 situation is currently worsening throughout the country and consequent Government announcements may affect what we can do.

These uncertainties mean that we are delaying opening for entries. We now expect to open on BROE2 on Monday, 26 October 2020 (we had originally planned to open on 5 October).

We will post further details about the 2020 race…. in the week commencing 19 October 2020 after our next Committee meeting. These will include the number of crews that we will be able to accommodate this year given the change to the course and the Covid-19 situation.

The Leander quad that went ‘Head of the River’ in the 2014 Fours Head.

While the end of the pandemic and the repair of Hammersmith Bridge are both a long way away, we all yearn for the return of ‘normal’ activities, even when they have to be adapted to the ‘new normal’. Hopefully, the 2020 Fours Head will take place and that it will remind us all of the ‘good old days’ of eleven months and more ago.

Me at bow approaching Hammersmith Bridge during the 1987 Fours Head. This would have been near the probable finish point of this year’s race – and it looks as if we would not have minded if that had been the case 33 years ago.


  1. I was certain Timbo had rowed in a real boat and that it was not another urban myth. Great picture. Those were the days – happy then!

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