Head-ing in the Right Direction

Blades drawn. A scene at Hammersmith prior to the 2019 Head of the River Race.

14 September 2021

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch is heartened by a recent notice from the Port of London Authority.

Much of the time since March 2020 it has seemed like, in Noel Coward’s sadly timeless but paradoxically cheering phrase,  there are bad times just around the corner.

While the pandemic is far from over, in some countries where vaccines are widely available, large-scale sporting events are now retuning to the athletic calendar. In the rowing world, Henley and the Olympic Regatta have been the most notable examples of this welcome reappearance. A recent Notice to Mariners issued by the Port of London Authority illustrates how British rowing is, apparently at least, slowly moving back to something like the good old days of 18 months ago. 

The easing of COVID related restrictions plus the reopening of navigation under Hammersmith Bridge has enabled the organisers of the various head races held over the Mortlake – Putney Championship Course to start planning for the next few months.
The Scullers Head of the River Race will be on 18 September. This picture is from 2011.

The Scullers Head website notes:

Vesta Rowing Club is happy to announce that we have secured agreement for a change of month for the running of The Scullers Head from December to September. This year’s event will take place at 14.00 on September 18th. The committee has been discussing this potential move for some time and having missed out on the last edition due to the pandemic feel that now is a good time to make the change. Moving the event to September not only puts the event into a more logical position within the framework of the autumn heads, but also brings with it the hope of better weather and more flexibility with daylight hours.

The website statement goes on to flag a potential problem for all organisers of Tideway head races:

With the news of Hammersmith Bridge’s reopening to river traffic it is our firm intention to run the full championship course from University Stone Mortlake to Putney on the ebb tide. However at the moment it is not clear under what circumstances (if any) the bridge might be re-closed, so we can’t guarantee to run a full course. To mitigate this risk we will also put in place a contingency plan for running a shorter course that will take place entirely above Hammersmith Bridge. It is our hope to have more information before entries close, so that all competitors will know on what basis they are competing in the event.

The 2021 Pairs Head is on 2 October. Remarkably, the 2020 race actually took place and this picture from last year shows racing and returning boats passing Chiswick Eyot. The Pairs Head does not run over the full Championship Course but goes from Chiswick Bridge to the old Harrods Repository.
The Wingfield Sculls (shown here in 2015) is a side-by-side race, not a head, but it is on the Championship Course and this year is on 21 October. COVID did not stop the 2020 race though the closure of Hammersmith Bridge meant that it was not over the traditional four-and-a-quarter miles from Putney to Mortlake but the three miles between St Paul’s School and the University of London Boathouse.
The 2017 Fours Head viewed from Putney. 13 November will see the return of the Fours Head and, as usual, the Veteran Fours Head will be held the next day.
Moving onto 2022, the first Tideway head of that year will be Quintin Head which will take place on 29 January. Here, a Quintin crew passes Fuller’s Brewery during the 2019 race. Picture: quintinboatclub.org
Hammersmith Head, run from Chiswick to Hammersmith, will be on 29 January 2022. Pictured are St Paul’s School J15s racing in 2019. Picture: stpaulsschool.org.uk
The 2022 Women’s Head of the River Race is on 12 March. Pictured is Ruderclub Schaffhausen from Switzerland racing in 2014.
Monday, 14 March 2022, will see the return of the Schools Head. The SHoRR is for boys and girls aged between 14 and 18 in eights, coxed fours and coxless quads. Composite crews are not permitted. Here, viewed from Barnes Railway Bridge, some competitors for the 2017 Schools Head marshal at Mortlake.
On 26 March and 27 March 2022 are the respective dates of the Head of the River Race and the Veterans Head of the River Race. Oxford Brookes are pictured here winning in the 2016 HoRR.

Some reminders for those racing in Tideway Heads

As this scene from Putney during the 2019 HoRR shows, it is very busy both on land and water. Make plans accordingly.
The Championship Course has two bends – do not cut them. This map shows the navigation rules in force under normal conditions. Part of the river is closed to other users for the major head races when other rules apply. Know what they are.
Show some gratitude to those who spend a lot of time organising such events. Head races do not just happen and shown here are the people who attended the 2019 Fours Head pre-race umpires’ briefing, only some of those who are needed to run such an event. Picture: @HoR4s
Respect the Tideway, it can be an unforgiving place. Here, Griffin Boat Club goes under at the finish of the stormy 2014 Head of the River Race. Read Daniel Walker’s 2017 HTBS piece, “Are you ready for the Tideway?”

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