Henley Master’s Regatta: The proof is in the pudding (or at least the cheese course)


the spoils of victory!

the spoils of victory!

If Henley were a restaurant it would undoubtedly have five Michelin stars. Each year it serves up a three course chef’s special of the highest quality rowing. The menu starts with the Women’s regatta as the early summer entrée, followed by the royal regatta for the main course and polished off with Henley Masters’ Regatta as the cheese course. Each plate is, of course, washed down by an appropriate melange of alcoholic beverages.

As a tepid June turned into a scorching July, and with the entrée and plat du jour complete, focus turned to final event. The Masters’ Regatta sees crews of similar vintage do battle other over, a far more civilized, one kilometre course on the Henley reach.  Competitors ranged from the young Ricotta of the ‘A’ category with a crew average over 27 to the hardened Parmesan of the ‘I’ category with a crew average over 75.

The Lea sent nine crews plus Vincent in a composite quad. The result was a veritable fondue of the opposition, coming away with six wins for the WA.4+, WA.2-,MxC.2x,E.4+,G.4+ and Vincent’s 4x.

As there were so many crews and successes and because Orhan provided the editor with so much material, intentionally or otherwise, the rest of this report is broken down to give the reader all of the action in gripping detail.

The men

The self-named Men’s Veteran squad are a formidable force – like strong Roquefort, but, being from East London, minus the blue veins. Their prowess has been demonstrated not only by the fact that they can almost hold the women’s eight in a 30 stroke start, but by their considerable successes in repeatedly defending several national titles. Henley only served to support their reputation – a reputation earned through supporting each other (see photo).

Orhan demonstrating the support the vet men offer to each other (and suitable ladies)

Orhan demonstrating the support the vet men offer to each other (and suitable ladies)

The  E coxed four, made up of Bow Tom Smith, 2 Donald MacDonald,3 Neil Mackenzie and Stroke Orhan “ Kebab “ Kephalas  ; steered by Richard Hill were given a bye to Saturday where  they met  Upper Thames in the semi final.

The Lea four showed their mettle by striking 44 off the stake boats and immediately taking a half length boat lead, which was then stretched to a length by the barrier. This was maintained until the last three hundred meters when Donald called to check the rate, Upper Thames closed the distance to ¾ of a length but the race was in hand.

In the final Lea were matched against previous winners Royal Chester. Though Lea didn’t manage to take an immediate lead out of the gate, they kept the rate higher for longer, thus managing to pull out a length and half lead. Royal Chester pushed to make headway but Lea kept the rate at 36 not allowing Chester to cut into the lead, despite the fact that their hands were being ripped to shreds from the application of Turkish army issue pole dancing powder.

When questioned as to why he brought pole dancing powder to the Regatta, Mr Kephalas stated that he lived by Ataturk’s motto, ‘be prepared’. The author pointed out that he may be confused with the Boy Scouts on that point…but apparently that’s what they do in Turkey – the author made no further inquiries on this point.

The final result was a length and half.

The G coxed four with Bow Julian Haxby, 2 George Saunders, 3 AJ and Stroke Roy Vigus Coxed by Eleanor Vernall had a straight final against Upper Thames. George a senior and well respected member of the Doggett’s Coat and Badge fraternity (See the “ Hear the boat sing “website for fuller details)  had spent the previous day entertaining the Princess Royal at the annual historic Doggett’s Coat and Badge race and subsequently taking her on a pub crawl (all videos have now been censored).

Again Lea took a quick lead which Upper Thames were never able to get back on terms with. Going through the line AJ could look back to thirty one years ago, when he won his first of two Britannia medals at Henley royal.

For the H coxless four which was made up of the same members of the G coxed four it seemed that the previous race and the extremely hot conditions were not enough to fend off the strong showing of their opponents Bedford.

The veteran squad now have international aspirations. Fans should note that their next appearances will be at two international regattas; Sudbury and Varese.

The women & mixed double

The women’s entries came from across the Lea’s squads, the Ladies veterans, LEArn to Race and the Women’s senior squad. More like a Fortnum and Masons Christmas cheese hamper, the ladies bring a mixture of experience, temperament and always a fantastic selection of picnic foods.

Friday saw the author try her hand at double sculling. After a couple of outings with her heroic partner Anna they propelled the rapidly disintegrating Gladstone Warwick down the Henley Stretch. Luckily our opponents (Guilford, the eventual winners) disappeared into the sunset as the author could not persuade the boat to stick to the Bucks station. Despite feeling the row was somewhat agricultural (confirmed by later pictures), both rowers enjoyed the experience and decided to it again sometime once they had learnt to scull and the pictures had been deleted from Bigblade.

The B 4+ (Lucy, Claire, Sarah, Daisy, Mary) was also knocked out of the competition on Friday, but after what they described as one of their best rows.

Friday was not all disappointment. Having disposed of her usual partner, Bridget, the veritable hard cheese, of the women’s senior squad co-opted Jim into the C mixed doubles. As last years’ champions and with a personal vendetta to settle, there was no room for under-performance. Luckily there was no need to worry. Despite being so dehydrated that he needed medical attention Jim proved he was up to standard and they beat Walton comfortably. On Saturday the winning margins only got bigger, beating Ancholme by 3 lengths and Luebecker Frauen from Germany by 2 ¼ lengths in the final.

Saturday was another day of mixed fortunes.

There is always a feeling of dread that sinks over you when you are drawn against a composite. Why? Well because often it means a good rower from one club has called up all her friends (national squad contemporaries) from other clubs with the sole intention of entering a boat that can’t fail to lose. That is exactly the situation that the D 4x found themselves in the semi-finals lining up against the composite that would go on to win in the final. They were disappointed to lose so convincingly, but all said they enjoyed the experience of being at Henley.

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W A 4+ landing after collecting their medals

There was no disappointment for the A4+ (Anna, Lucy, Amanda, the author, Mary). Under the still scorching mid-afternoon sun they paddled up to the stake-boats, not perhaps the most obvious crew line-up, and having only managed two outings together they glanced over to see that at least half the Marlow four were from the crew that had been racing at IM2 together all season. The author was already feeling drained by the heat sitting on the start but luckily the power suntans sported by Amanda and Lucy behind her was reassurance that it was an isolated problem. After a slightly nervy first hundred metres, the girls pulled out ahead. A late challenge from the opponent was swiftly countered and they were soon paddling around to collect their medals and celebrating with Lucy the winning of her first rowing point.

The day was not done for Amanda, who not satisfied with winning one medal, jumped into the A pair with Bridget for a final showdown with Vesta.  As one of the best women’s pairs around this season the result was a foregone conclusion and a comfortable victory brought both ladies a second well deserved medal.

Many happy Lea rowers departed Henley that evening…even the hours spent trying to get the clamp off the trailer by spraying it with insect repellent did not succeed in dampening spirits.

All-in all, if the amount of times I had my hand shaken on Sunday is anything to go by, it was a successful outing for the Lea and proof that neither age nor beauty are obstacles to victory.

Written by Rachel Lund and Orhan Kephalas

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