The last calm view we had of Sir Steve Redgrave on Wednesday morning at Henley was as he skimmed smoothly up the course on the first launch of the day, watching Cantabrigian turn Marlow into the first of eighty crews to be sent packing on day 1. After that, the beknighted new Chairman was seen practically scurrying - there is no other word for it - making sure everything ran on greased wheels for his inaugural regatta.
It did, actually. Despite the best efforts of the heat (the UK's hottest July day on record, in which much of Britain wilted), a stuttering 3G network, a bloody-minded flock of geese and an erratic crosswind, it all went like clockwork.
But there's an even chance you saw some of it for yourself. Yup, the TV streaming worked an absolute treat. One crew was picked up for swearing (self-congratulatory post-win stuff along the lines of 'hell, yes we won' though less polite), but most kept it clean and the variety of racing shots was superb. At the end of the day HRR put a highlights package out, with Sir Matt Pinsent playing the Clare Balding role better than the grande dame does herself, sewing all the best bits together. If you've never been to Henley Royal, this gives you an unrivalled feel for the regatta.
There were a few hiccups. As the sun blazed down on the Thames, the throngs of spectators started to buckle. Redgrave kindly allowed those in the Stewards' Enclosure to take their jackets off at 11:35am, but faintings and collapses were the order of the day. The medical team at the boat tents had several ambulanced in from further down the course, had to pinch one of the physiotherapy couches as a makeshift bed, and had to put six people on drips to rehydrate them. There were rumours of running out of car parking spaces and more substantial chat about the bars running out of champagne. One press bod leapt about excitedly as his smartphone confirmed that mid-afternoon temperatures in Henley-on-Thames were beating both Barcelona and Cairo at high noon.
As two schoolboy crews in quick succession lost spoons - apparently blamed on the glue melting in the heat as Wintech found their oars under fire on Twitter - although it was later overheard that Canterbury had had two other oars do the same thing in the last two weeks, so the blame might be better laid on lack of imagination on the part of the coach/club than on manufacturer's glue. First Canford's dropped off as they were warming up to face Latymer Upper, prompting a delay of several hours before Latymer could complete the expected win. And then the poor strokeman of King's Canterbury saw his own spoon suddenly vanish mid-race and was left waving an untipped loom rhythmically to set the pace for his crew - a trick which sounds easy but is very difficult to do well. The fact that they were already several lengths down to Westminster, one of the most highly rated crews in the event, was chilly comfort.
The biggest shenanigans of day one are always in the Wyfold coxless fours, and a gusting cross-wind in the morning made life difficult for many a steersman. Tyrian clonked the booms and dropped behind but recovered to overtake and beat Marlow, while Oslo and Henley had to restart after meeting in neutral water. Kudos to Tyne, however, who rowed back through Upper Thames B in the closing strokes of a race which had seemed already decided, for the two-foot verdict which was the closest of the day. Thankfully no bone-headed waterfowl disturbed them: the Henley reach geese, who follow each other about in sheep-like flocks just where they aren't wanted, tend to migrate to coxless races as if by magic. They were also sent loopy by the heat - it usually takes several days for a big group to form, but this year dozens of them were already lurking about behind Temple Island, patently convinced that the water on the other side between the booms was a cool Paradise which must be reached at all costs. The special goose-patrol catamarans were continually busy herding them away to avoid them disrupting and delaying racing.
The cross-wind could hardly be blamed for the veering of many coxed crews along the island, those on Bucks tending to act as if Temple Island would bite them if they got too close, then dog-legging back again at the start of the booms. Unfortunately for the coxes, their steering antics are now being captured in technicolour glory on camera, and can be relived forever on the HRR Official YouTube page. Henley already exaggerates margins between disparate-speed crews, and jigging about on the course does nothing to help it.
Enough teasing - you want to hear about the eights. The Princess Elizabeth (schools) was fun, but not entirely surprising. Andover squeezed out a 2/3 length win against St George's with noticeable effort, and will now meet Hampton, who won a regular ding-dong against Shrewsbury in satisfying revenge for having been beaten by a second at National Schools. It wasn't the shock upset organisers billed it as, and neither was the defeat of Abingdon, a 'rebuilding' crew, by the much more solid and powerful St Paul's. Not every result from earlier regattas goes against the real form of the crews...
Meanwhile Salisbury and Gonzaga stuffed Reading Blue Coats and Bedford respectively by four lengths apiece, and Boston College and Shawnigan Lake beat average opponents. The real fun and games started in the morning, when it became rapidly apparent that Ratsgymnasium Osnabrück had no boat to row in. Where was the boat? Stuck on the other side of the Channel, no less, due to an inconvenient strike by French ferry workers which has constipated ports and the Eurotunnel across La Manche.
The humming Stewardly machine went into operation, and after postponing the Osnabrück race against London Oratory, a substitute boat was found courtesy of the Shrewsbury School alumni. Several other crews' trailers have also been affected, including the Canadian women who race in the Remenham on Friday, and who were travelling over from the continent after duffing up the British women in Varese ten days ago. French cheese is no longer the flavour of the day.
In the Temple, pretty much everything went to plan other than a spanner in the works for Newcastle University's second-string eight, lower-ranked than their coxed and coxless fours. The wrench belonged to Kent, who had to enter the Temple when two of their number turned nineteen inconveniently in June, and who put Newcastle to bed in very tidy fashion despite it being their first ever race over 1500 metres. All the selected crews went through smoothly, and the only close race was that of Liverpool University, who startled the Enclosures out of their heat-induced stupor by rowing through University College London in very fine style.
Columbia's lightweights looked very clean against Imperial College, earning themselves an easier day against the University of West of England, but my picks are Princeton and Nereus, who posted speedy Barrier times during the worst of the wind before going on to win by large margins. Nereus think their final will be on Friday against Brookes, and Princeton may well be unchallenged until the weekend, unless the Frenchmen from Lyon find a gear they haven't yet shown.
The club eights had some of the few 'easily' (over 5 lengths) verdicts of the day for Thames A, Sport Imperial and University Barge Club, the latter being eyed up uneasily by several British coaches. Green Lake A and Mercantile Australia both steamed through to the second round, and other strong crews included Leander (who raced as Star and Arrow this summer) and Bayer Leverkusen.
The best of the Fawley junior men's quads had byes to Thursday, but there was great racing from Y Quad Cities on their first overseas trip (rowing through Kingston), and San Diego earned themselves a spot on the highlights footage through defeating Great Marlow, Sir Steve's own former school and racing here for the first time. They were watched by Roy Hodgson, the England soccer manager, who set tweets flying when he turned up as a guest of the chairman. Football players never look at rowing over here either....
Friday's racing will have a gap in it at noon for the whole regatta to observe the UK's planned minute's silence for the victims of the Tunisia massacre. Thursday sees the start of the rest of the lower-level men's events and rounds of the Double Sculls and the Goblets. It promises thunderstorms, a much cooler and less windy day, and the Red Arrows at 12:18pm local time (GMT+1). Bet the cameras will be in action for that one.