It was clear from early on Thursday morning that the weather gods were having an argument over the Henley-on-Thames valley. Gone were the scorching temperatures of Wednesday, and in their place came brooding clouds, a drop of 30 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, and umbrellas to deal with the odd spot of rain. You could be forgiven for thinking someone had sneakily shifted the Thames to a different latitude overnight, and even the Red Arrows, who thundered over just before lunch, didn't bother to stick the red white and blue dye in their tanks, so trailed only suitably grey smoke to match the mood.
On the water at the Royal Regatta it was very much business as usual, however, with towpath chat about melting oar glue (ridiculous, most coaches think) and whether the few spots of overnight rain would do anything to the stream (no chance). Day 2 of this year's programme saw all but the higher events get started for men, along with the Diamond Jubilee junior women's quads, this year expanded to a welcome 12 places. The Prince Albert coxed fours have also been expanded, to 24 spots, although the club equivalent of the Britannia has been left at 16.
And boy do the girls make the most of their chances. On a day when, if we're honest, many of the verdicts were decided by the Barrier, one of the best races was provided by Diamond Jubilee contestants Warrington and Sir William Borlase's in the penultimate run of the day, just as the sun was starting to appear again.
Warrington, knowing they had been 12 seconds slower at National Schools Regatta in June, shot off into an early lead, and hauled it doggedly out to a three-quarter length advantage. So far so clever, but Borlase, whose coach Robin Dowell is about to move to lead the GB juniors, kept their composure. They never let Warrington get away, and paced themselves absolutely beautifully to rack up the pressure as they reached the Enclosures, relentlessly powering through. Warrington sprinted in reply, but a little too late, and Borlase took it by a half-length to earn themselves a quarter-final against national champions Gloucester...
The rest of the day could be summed up by "good to be American or Australian, not great to be a German steersman" for the overseas crews. Canadian schoolboy champions Shawnigan Lake had looked good the day before, but crumbled before the onslaught of Boston College High School, who zoomed through them with a merciless attack before Fawley, and slid away to a solid clear-water verdict.
By the way, Boston College did 200-metre starts against the GB women's eight earlier in the week: GB cox Zoe de Toledo describing the outcome as "We pulled their pants down in the first 10-20 strokes and then they powered away from us." Acting as the GBR W8+ training partners is clearly good for crews: the Sir William Borlase's Fawley Cup boys, who did speed orders with the GB women recently and came close to junior worlds standard doing so, beat Windsor Boys' School easily.
Elsewhere in the Princess Elizabeth Cup Andover carried their Non Sibi (Not For Self) motto up the course ahead of King's School Chester, and will next meet Westminster, who walloped Hampton. Eton were pushed relatively hard by Salisbury, two of whose NEIRA's oarsmen had to go and start their Naval Academy training so could not race here, and now meet Gonzaga, who got the better of Irish boys Portora by a nail-biting half-length in a royal tussle.
St Edward's beat Osnabrück in the early evening, but that was only the latest of several German defeats. The most astonishing was that of Münster by Harvard's 'A' four in the Visitors' in the late afternoon. Ten strokes in, Münster's slide towards the middle of the course brought their blades within interlocking distance of Harvard's, and they ground to a nasty halt. The umpire's decision to restart both crews was generous to Münster, who were clearly considerably more at fault, and on the second go the Germans' steering was not much better.
As they weaved about, now near the edge, now the middle, Harvard coolly ignored the histrionics and serenely sat near their boom, making a well-timed attack in the Enclosures which took them clear ahead. Earlier in the day it was Harvard 'B' who initially had steering trouble then Allemannia later, but both crews recovered after a clash in neutral water below Fawley, and the Cambridge boys made it through to face Cal today.
The Visitors' coxless fours seemed to have more trouble than the Wyfolds, despite officially being a higher standard, and despite the wind not being particularly tricky at water level. Eton Vikings/Griffen got themselves wrapped round the booms near the island, giving Yale the chance to put a pile of lengths between the two crews before Eton were able to untangle themselves. In the Wyfolds, Dresden bent their bow rigger round a post while warming up, had to paddle back to the boat tents to change it, beating Nonesuch easily when they returned.
Sydney Rowing Club have four crews here, and the only one to fall on Thursday was their Wyfold coxless four, which initially led against Petone from New Zealand (that's a name the commentators seem to think can be pronounced three different ways), but were rowed down by the Kiwis late on. The Sydney stroke man Lachlan Hine is that rare thing, a rowing TV star, having appeared in a commercial for Mitsubishi Motors recently.
Reading and Bath Universities demolished more German crews (Hamburg and Leverkusen/Allemannia respectively) in the first round of the Prince of Wales elite quads, an event which is beginning to look feisty. The Prince Albert coxed fours also got going, and one of the better races was that in which Hobart College A, being led by Oxford Brookes, rallied superbly in the Enclosures but ran out of space to lose by just two-thirds of a length. Their 'B' crew had gone out to one of Newcastle's best crews earlier on. A pile of selected crews, including Yale, Cal, Harvard and Washington, now join the PA party in the second round, and those who get through will race twice on Saturday.
There was a period in mid-afternoon when it felt as if US crews could do nothing wrong. In an early harbinger of the Fourth of July, Columbia, Princeton and Cornell qualified for the Temple quarter-finals, Cornell doing it the stylish way against the heavier and far from average Trinity College Dublin. The Irishmen never got ahead, but stuck right alongside Cornell, who weathered everything thrown at them and tried to get away at Remenham. That took the tight margin to two-thirds of a length, but they couldn't escape more and there were repeated attacks at the end from the gutsy Dubliners. Great racing from both crews.
Meanwhile Columbia got the social media nerds excited with their Instagram handle printed along their hulls, and they now meet Hobart, who won a similarly tough battle against Virginia. Princeton's 3V have the French (Lyon) to go at, while in the other half, US supporters will be keen to see Oxford Brookes and Nereus, both dangerous contestants, wearing each other out.
University Barge Club USA are looking like one of the top contenders in the Thames Cup alongside Mercantile Australia, and Y Quad Cities' national champion girls' quad showed their quality against Tideway Scullers in the Diamond Jubilee Cup, although their boys' quad is out of the Fawley despite pushing Pangbourne all the way.
Today (Friday) will see the first bunch of internationals take to the water, with the GB and Canadian women's eights in the Remenham, Mirka Knapkova and Mahe Drysdale in the singles, and the big guns join the Doubles and Goblets. The tastiest racing will be in the Ladies' Plate, and yes, although it's barely being admitted to, there is an effort to ensure that the North American crews with the biggest chances are scheduled where possible in the afternoon, so that their races can be watched live. One of the biggest is the Huskies versus the Tigers in the Ladies' Plate, which would normally be a 12 noon type of race to get the crowds excited before lunch, but is set for 4pm local time on Friday.
And a final caution - crews have now been warned that yes, from Friday a drone is going to join the filming team. row2k gathers it is going to be flown by the best drone pilot in Europe, a military professional, and the operation has been cleared with local air traffic control who don't normally permit anything (other than the Red Arrows) to fly over the HRR course during this week. Could yield amazing viewing.
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