The University of Michigan eight was sitting quietly upriver waiting for their first race of the Henley Royal Regatta to begin. The crew was a short distance from where they needed to be, which was locked onto the start platform and set to row.
Their location caught the attention of referee Boris Rankov, who was eyeing the crew and checking his watch.
Henley rules state that crews are not called to the line, and Rankov was being clear to Michigan head coach Gregg Hartsuff, who was seated behind him, that he was not going to be the one to tell them they had to row into the start without direction.
"We don't call crews to the line at Henley," Rankov informed.
The situation was eased a bit when the veteran referee spotted Michigan's competition, Nottingham University, doing the same - sitting still and also apparently waiting to be called into the start. Rankov let both coaches riding in the launch know that "someone" needed to tell them, and suggested it might be time to for "someone" to yell to them.
Everyone in the launch then got the point - with a little help from the television cameraman doing a live stream broadcast from the launch, who explained; "What Boris is saying, is that you need to tell them. Now."
Problem solved. Message relayed. No harm. No foul.
So began Michigan senior coxswain Rose Lewis' first Henley experience. But from the way it all worked out, Lewis didn't seem to have been fazed a bit- she might not have even been aware of the little Henley wrinkle that unfolded just before her race.
Michigan coxswain Rose Lewis
Michigan rowed into the start area, got themselves settled and ready, then blasted into the lead and rowed to a first day Temple Challenge Cup win in the dual, one and done, knockout format that is Henley Royal Regatta racing.
"I've never been here before, so this was my first time," Lewis said later. "I had no idea what the process was going to be, or how it was going to go. We didn't know anything about the other team either, so it was like walking into a black hole. That's kind of how it felt, not knowing how you would do," she said.
"But, we had the best start we've ever had, and it was pretty fun. We got pretty far up on them. Once you have that sort of open water, you just start to get a little more comfortable, a little calmer, and we just shut it down and had a fun time. I told (the crew) to just take it in.
"You could hear the people cheering, and it was such a cool experience. I just said, we're ahead, enjoy it, just take it to the finish line."
The result was pretty much the same way for a majority the US crews that started their five-day quest for a Henley championship on the first day of racing in the 2019 Henley Royal Regatta. Of the 22 US crews that raced in an opening heat Wednesday, 13 advanced to the Thursday second round.
In all, on Wednesday 84 races were run. That's 168 boats shuttled down the two-lane course on a day that began early (9 AM) and ended late (7:45 PM). Thursday will see another long day of racing (88 races, 176 crews) that will start earlier (8:30 AM).
Of the US crews that had a solid first day, in addition to Michigan's eight, it was Boston University, Brown University, Harvard University, Northeastern University, the University of Pennsylvania's lightweight eight, and Purdue among the university teams racing in the Temple Challenge Cup, along with Green Lake Crew, which is racing an eight in the Thames Challenge Cup.
In the Prince Albert Challenge Cup men's coxed fours, Harvard advanced by defeating Cornell University, which for the US was a wash on the advance-eliminated score sheet. On the high school side, St. Paul's School, St. Joseph's Prep, and The Lawrenceville School all advanced into the second round.
Among the crews that advanced, Brown University got the day started defeating Caius Boat Club in their Temple Challenge Cup heat. Brown led from the start and will row again Thursday.
Brown University set the tone early for US crews
"It was a good first time down the track," said Brown's Jack Abeel. "We've been here in England for a while so it feels really good to get a race against someone, go the full course, so good first day. We've got a lot to build on."
Unlike Michigan's Lewis, Abeel has been to Henley before, having raced in the same event last year. He was aware of the intricate rules, and the way the crowd cheers as the crews come into the finish. "I did this before, so I am used to the sights.
"I was here in 2017. A lot of guys have experienced this and are returning from last year's group. But, it always feels like a really distracting atmosphere, so you really have to stay internal for most of it.
"It's a great experience for the team," Abeel said. "First off, you get more time just in a seat, rowing. And, it's really good to have the opportunity for one-on-one racing. It mimics the college dual season very well, and it's good to have this sort of progression where you have one race a day, and you really just sort of learn to build off what you think you can do better, and really continue to do what you think you did well the day before."
Among the high school crews racing in the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, St. Paul's, St. Joes, and Lawrenceville all advanced to the next round.
"Our race plan was to go out, have a clean start and hit our base, which is definitely our best part of the race," said Colin Rosser of St. Joe's. Racing Canford School, St. Joe's took the lead early and held to the finish.
"It's a surreal feeling being here," Rosser said. "We've been here for the past week, rowing on the Thames, with people just right alongside you in big fancy boats waking you out. It's nothing like it is back in the US. But it's definitely something special and that makes it even more fun to win here for sure," he said.
"Today was kind of about getting a feeling for what it's like to race the full course. From here on, I think the competition is going to be tougher and we're not going to be able to sit down as low as we did for most of that race," he said. "We're looking forward to moving on, and as long as we race our race, I think we'll make it pretty far."
St, Joseph's Prep leaves the boat tent for the launch dock
Notes From the Course
It's been a rough day for the Henley Royal Regatta official web site, which was off line for a good part of the day. It first went down late morning, and was noticed pretty quickly. A quick exchange between Daniel Springer (aka FatSculler) on twitter was slightly entertaining. Springer posted a shot of the error message and the comment "Oh dear."
Henley responded on their twitter account: "Hi Daniel. We've been working on the problem and it's back up now. Fingers crossed it stays up for the rest of the day now."
They must have uncrossed their fingers. It went down repeatedly all afternoon.
No melting tar.
The big weather story last summer was the heat. Nearly every afternoon the tar on the paths, and the road into the venue, started melting. So far this year, the weather has been pleasant, and is expected to stay that way.
It was a perfect weather day for Henley racing
The Henley Way.
The British have their own way of doing things when it comes to Henley. For example, the official length of the course is 2,112 meters. Guess they couldn't move the finish posts to make it a standard 2k course.
Actually, they did. Four times. And, it's all explained in the daily program: There was the "Old Course," in use from 1839 to 1885. That one was one mile and 550 yards; Then there was the "New Course," which was inaugurated in 1886, and reduced the lanes from three to two;
That was followed by the "Experimental Course" which (the book explains it this way) "straight but only 1 and 1/4 miles in length." That was tried in 1923, but then abandoned for the "Straight Course," which is the 2,112 meter course. The current distance.
The Narrowest of Margins.
You would think that with all this exact math and course changing, they could come up with a finish decision that was anything other than this report on the official result twitter feed:
So, what exactly, is the narrowest of margins? The people in the Henley Press office said they didn't know. "No one is sure. Probably better to ask the ref."
It was updated very late in the day to "one inch."