As with every Henley Saturday, the picnicking masses descended on the course today, most of them oblivious to the great semi-finals action on show just a few meters away, although one set of spectators were alerted to the presence of the river when their Pimms gazebo blew into the middle of it just before the start of the Brown Alumni heat in the Ladies Plate - the race was delayed slightly while one of the regatta boats towed it back to shore.
In the racing lanes (and sometimes slightly outside the racing lanes, as you can read below), Independence Day brought some epic battles as crews lined up for a place in the finals. The Americans didn't manage to vanquish the Brits in all of their heats, but a respectable number of crews have made it through to race on Sunday.
The Temple Challenge Cup is definitely going back across the pond tomorrow. Princeton lightweights were the first US crew to make it through this morning, their usual blisteringly fast start got them less of a lead against A.S.R. Nereus than it the previous rounds but they dug in hard, lifted the rate and rowing with great precision increased their lead to win by 3/4 length. In the other semi final Brown out-powered a crew from Melbourne University, leading from the start and finishing 2 1/4 lengths ahead. Princeton last won the Temple in 2003, while Brown's last win at Henley was in the Ladie's Plate in 2000.
The Ladies Plate semis saw one Brown crew (the Alumni) go out and one stay in. The Brown Alumni & NYAC crew were racing the GB U23 eight, racing as Leander and Molesey. The Leander/Molesey crew settled slightly earlier in the windy conditions, Brown challenged back but were unable to find the necessary speed. In the second semi, Brown took the upper hand against a Leander crew containing 6 of last year's winners. There was never more than 3/4 L in it and at the halfway point Leander started to draw back slightly. Approaching the finish, with their lead whittled down to 1/4 Length, Brown changed gear, upped their pace and pushed away to win by 1/2 L.
Mercyhurst just scraped through in the Visitors, as Molesey hit the booms at the end of the island. By the time they'd recovered, Mercyhurst had a length lead and was moving further ahead. A determined effort by Molesey recovered most of what they had lost, but their steering was not good approaching the finish and despite lifting their rate and throwing the kitchen sink at it, they could only manage to reduce Mercyhurst's lead to a 1/3 length.
Yale's Prince Albert crew also booked their place in the final early on Saturday morning when they had to fight back from behind in a close race with Reading University. Reading had the quicker start but Yale kept snapping at their heels and finally moved ahead as the race approached the finish. The Yale crew will race Oxford Brookes tomorrow.
In the Remenham Challenge Cup, Yale outclassed Thames from the start and had clear water by the end of the island. They then put the pedal to the metal and disappeared off into the distance in an impressive show of power. The girls face a tough challenge in the final when they race most of the GB eight (I say most because there is one sub - Olympic medallist Sarah Winckless in the seven seat). The squad crew, rowing as Leander and Wallingford knocked out the GB U23 8 in their heat earlier today.
Brunswick School lost out in their quest for the P.E. to Abingdon, they had taken an early lead but Abingdon had drawn level by the barrier and went on to lead by 2 1/2 lengths, they will meet favourites Eton College in an all British final tomorrow.
The quad from California Rowing club in the Queen Mother faced stiff opposition from the GB quad in their semi-final. They turned up on the start line wearing matching bandanas to mark the 4th July, but it was the British quad, rowing as Reading University and Leander club, who won out this time. The Brits were pushed hard by the Californians until the end of the island, when they started to draw away. The GB quad looked smoother over the first half of the course, but as CRC settled into their rhythm they were able to run with the leaders, if not quite get past them, and the GB crew held on for a 1/2 length win.
A few members of the US/CRC quad will have to hold off on the Pimm's binge until tomorrow when they "have another shot" at Henley glory tomorrow when they double up into the final-only Grand Challenge eight. The Princeton Training Center and California Rowing Club entry, which was originally supposed to include the men's quad and the men's four doubling up into the eight, is now a hybrid of the mens' quad and the Brown/NYAC alumni eight after work obligations kept the men's four from attending. See the full lineup here by inputting Crew Number: 2.
Ellen Tomek lost out in the PRCC to New Zealand international Emma Twigg, who came second in the single in the Munich World Cup last month. Tomek had a bad start, catching her right scull on the first stroke, which pulled her round to starboard. She took a while to get straight again by which time Twigg was already clear. In the other semifinal, Gevvie Stone of Cambridge Boat Club put in an impressive performance against New Zealand Olympian Juliette Haigh. After moving into an early length lead, Stone kept on top on the race until the finish, winning by 3/4L.
The battle of the Diamonds, Mahe Drysdale had little bother winning his heat against Belgian Tim Maeyens. The other semi between GB sculler Alan Campbell and Olympic champion Olaf Tufte was a spectacular race. Tufte stole an initial lead of a length, matching Campbell's standard fast start. The Ulsterman then started to pull it back in. They were level by Remenham and Campbell had taken the lead by the mile, he went on to win by 2 lengths, in 8:10 - 20 seconds faster than Mahe's heat. After the race Campbell's coach, Bill Barry said "Olaf Tufte Olympic champion went out to break Alan, but Alan wouldn't let him."
Finally, the closest race I've ever seen at the regatta happened in the Brit this afternoon when Vesta took on City of Bristol in the Britannia Cup. The crews were level and practically stroke for stroke from the start until the mile and an eighth point, when Vesta moved ahead by a foot, both crews raised their rate of striking to 35 but Vesta edged ahead to win by 1/2 length. They race Agecroft tomorrow.