Henley 2021: Late on the Start but Ready to Race

Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School racing in the Fawley (Junior Men’s Quad Sculls).

12 August 2021

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch is down by the riverside.

It is generally accepted that it is a defining event in a child’s life when they first realise that their parents are fallible. Yesterday, the first Henley Royal Regatta in over 750 days was back and I for one was shocked to discover that the Stewards are as human as the rest of us and that Henley 2021 is not going to be perfect. 

This is, of course, judging those that run the event by their own incredibly high standards, levels of excellence set in “normal times”. The fact that there is a regatta at all this year is of enormous credit to the sixty-three Stewards and, in the current circumstances, no one could have put on a Henley anything like we have seen in the recent past. 

A few critics clearly have the ability to see into the future but, as the men and women who put on The Royal sadly lack this ability, they had to plan for the worst possible case caused by constantly changing COVID restrictions and the forced and rapid introduction of radical changes was never going to be without its problems. The historical success of an event like Henley is that usually it slowly evolves and avoids mistakes caused by hasty decisions. To add to its problems, the pandemic has caused a labour shortage as many are forced to self-isolate and, according to its website, the regatta is still advertising for staff.

Lower spectator numbers than usual resulted in easy passage along the riverside path.

The result of all this was that, for the competitors it was pretty much business as usual between the booms but boating from Fawley Meadows had its problems. In the Stewards’ Enclosure standards have been lowered with food stall concessions lurking in the old Regatta Enclosure end and some people wandering around with food and drink unchallenged. The Supporters Lawn is a mildly scruffy affair. My programme had pages five and six repeated on pages eleven and twelve. Some cynics have suggested that this special Henley has been an opportunity to experiment with some possible permanent changes. 

However, I am being churlish. I accept that Henley Royal Regatta must constantly change to survive, and I applaud recent innovative HRR Committees of Management. Ultimately, I am just very happy to be back at the world’s most famous regatta – though I trust that most of this year’s changes are temporary.

What about the rowing? Wednesday’s results are on the website but Sir Matthew Pinsent’s “Pick of the Day” is by far the best way to get a real sense of what happened on the water on the first day of Henley 2021.

Hopefully, a selection of some of my pictures will give some idea of the atmosphere on day one.

Auriol Kensington’s crew for the Wyfolds (Men’s Club Coxless Fours).
Very few women took advantage of the change in the rules allowing them to wear trousers, but this lady proves that they can be as stylish as any skirt or dress.
Caius Boat Club, Cambridge, pass the progress board racing in the Temple (Men’s Student Eights).
The view from the press box.
Quintin Boat Club pass the boating area in a heat of the Thames Cup (Men’s Club Eights).
Hampton School have a comfortable lead over Manchester University in the Temple (Men’s Student Eights).
Claires Court School racing in the Diamond Jubilee (Junior Women’s Quad Sculls).
The Bridge Bar (left) and the Supporters’ Lawn (right).
Nottingham and Union after racing in the Diamond Jubilee (Junior Women’s Quad Sculls).
St Edward’s School in a heat of the Diamond Jubilee (Junior Women’s Quad Sculls).
Royal Chester’s Thames Cup crew (Men’s Club Eights).
The East India Club’s bowman from their Thames Cup crew contemplates the meaning of victory and defeat.
Tideway Scullers’ Wyfold crew (Men’s Club Coxless Fours) on their way to the start.
Vesta’s Thames Cup entry (Men’s Club Eights).


  1. Don’t agree with your comment about the trouser wearing ‘ladies’. They both look pretty inelegant compared with those seen in earlier days!

    • Not sure about your use of inverted commas, Ian. Further, there are elegant and inelegant trousers but there are also elegant and inelegant skirts and dresses. Men’s clothes are variable as well. It takes all sorts.

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