11 August 2021
By Tim Koch
Tim Koch gets sweary.
There is an old joke that is supposed to illustrate the awe that the Welsh traditionally have for rugby football. Two rural teams meet up for a match, but no one brings a ball. After much fruitless searching, a frustrated voice shouts from the crowd: “Never mind the bloody ball, just get on with the game”. In 2021, a similar if slightly more practical plea must surely come from those who love the sport of rowing at Henley Royal Regatta: Never mind the size of the bloody tea tent, just get on with the rowing.
This year, particularly on land, some things will be different, and spectators, competitors and officials will, no doubt, suffer some annoyances and frustrations. However, as this recent drone footage shows, as long as the course is straight and 2,112 metres long, then everything else is secondary.
A Henley Royal Regatta press release put out on 10 August sets the scene:
Henley Royal Regatta returns to the water on Wednesday for what will be an even greater expression of the sense of occasion and gladiatorial racing that makes it famous. After being cancelled for the first time in its 182-year history outside of the World Wars, the five-day Regatta will be a particular focus for everyone involved; from the last chance school and university crews desperate to celebrate their final season together, to those on a delayed debut in the three new women’s events, to the Olympians in the making aiming for Paris 2024.
On 8 August, the Regatta Press Office had this to say about the draw:
It might have been the first time… that the Draw for Henley Royal Regatta had not taken place in a packed Henley town hall, but there was no shortage of drama on Sunday as Sir Steve Redgrave, Chairman of the Committee of Management, drew the numbers from the Grand Challenge Cup on livestream from Regatta headquarters.
“The Regatta will look different this year because of COVID-19 safety protocols – that is why we moved the Draw – and it is a little smaller this year, but not by much, there are 345 races this year compared to 355 in 2019,” Redgrave said. “Overseas numbers are down, but I was surprised by the numbers we do have, and the quality is there. In many of the events this will be the culmination of four to six years together and the camaraderie of school and university crews training for an extra six weeks through the summer is shining through.”
Despite the fact that I was fully prepared for a very different regatta this year, on Sunday evening I arrived in Henley-on-Thames and was slightly shocked to find that, two days before the start of racing, the river was almost deserted. The new boating area on Fawley Meadows was closed to competitors, the course was not operating under “regatta rules” and many crews were doing their final preparations elsewhere. Further, I suspect labour shortages caused by the pandemic were causing many aspects of the infrastructure to be very late in completion. However, on Monday, the boating area was open, boats could row up the course between the booms and things began to look a little more normal.
Details of the draw are on the official website as is a very interesting form guide. The website’s homepage gives the live stream, latest results and that day’s racing timetable. The Regatta’s YouTube Channel has previous races available “on demand” as well as showing the live stream.