The Henley Royal Regatta #RowingRant


A guest post by Stuart Harrison

Due to the inclement weather South Australia has been enduring over the last week and the Royal Henley Regatta being on YouTube I have sat in front of the computer and watched the entire regatta. The coverage of the event was outstanding. The overhead drone gave a clear picture of events that happened over the course of the regatta.

Bryan Kitch at Rowing Related blog has been challenged by Sir Matthew Pinsent to improve on the HRR rules of racing to remove ambiguity around umpiring decisions.’

The discussion is about using the overhead footage of the races for umpiring decisions.

The overhead drone showed very clearly crews drifting of their lines and for the coxswains out there or whoever has the foot plate, steering an eight, four, quad or pair in a straight line is not as easy as it looks. Then let’s throw in wind gusts, tide movement and booms with white vertical posts and a bit of wash off the spectator boats to liven things up.

In one four race two crews bounced off each other over the entire course to end in a close sprint for the line. The crew that lead the entire race was disqualified for creating dirty water. The overhead drone footage shows how both crews struggled to stay in their stations.Put a row of buoys down the middle and it would of just have been two crews drifting into the buoys and that would have been the end of it.

In my opinion the disqualification was uncalled for but the overhead footage was not used to make the final decision and I am the umpire sitting in front of my computer, not in the boat following the event.

In relation to the Nereus disqualification:

At the time of the incident the red flag was raised for Nereus drifting off station, as Leander were alongside Nereus it appeared Leander did not get any dirty water. After sometime Nereus were disqualified for ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ as on the reply or ‘3rd umpire’ it was clear Nereus Coach, Diederik Simon was giving steering instruction to his crew to move back to their station, a clear breach of HRR rules. These gestures were not seen by his crew and I did not notice this at the time as I was watching two world class crews going stroke for stroke down the course.

There were a few other umpiring decisions that were a bit !!!!! [Editor: I interpret this to mean dodgy or un-sound.]

There was a clash of blades shortly after the start and the crews moved away and kept rowing. Neither crew seemed affected by the incident. As one of my old coaches’ cliché would have been “row through the bastards” The umpire stopped the race, realigned the crews to within a millimetre and restarted them near the end of Temple Island. This rule is only used at HRR.

The other day I was visiting the President of our rowing club; he showed me a 1928 copy of Adelaide Rowing Club’s Constitution and Rule book. Flicking through the pages I found the rule that the HRR umpire had used to restart the race.

I thought that was very fair umpiring of that race.

I attend a little country regatta at Dimboola – it used to be the biggest country regatta in Australia. A 650 meter course, of 3 lanes with a toggle start and a race every 3 minutes.

[Editor: a Toggle Start is a rope is strung from bank to bank, with shorter ropes affixed at each lane.  The coxswain, or the sculler, holds on to the shorter rope and pulls as necessary to affect allignment of the crews.  They then drop the
ropes on “Attention.”]

Travel is restricted to one way in 1/2 hour racing brackets. When the beginner crews row into each other at the start to then have to restart from the toggles to row into each other again. It doesn’t take long for the regatta to be an hour behind schedule. It is however entertaining to watch while waiting for your race to start. This rule could be used at this regatta.

There was also another incident at HRR where an 8 had drifted off station and was taking a long time to move back on to their station. The losing crew moved aggressively off their line towards the other crew to cause the minutest touch of blades at the extreme ends of both 8s. The overhead drone footage showed clearly how sharply the trailing 8 moved off their station. The rules states that the crew under the umpires’ flag will be disqualified for a clash of blades. It was a smart move by the losing cox, to eliminate the winning crew, by disqualification, but very unsportsmanlike behaviour as they were clearly being beaten by a better crew.

I have also had this happen to myself in an 8s race a few strokes from the finish line and it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

There is 2 minutes on YouTube where the umpire is explaining why he was disqualifying the crew. The crew clearly state that they were struck by the other crew which is backed up by the overhead view. The crew asks why was the race not stopped and restarted. The reply from the umpire is basically; keep arguing with me and I will disqualify you for ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ instead of ‘clash of blades’.

The crew was correct in asking as other races were restated for a clash of blades, so why not this one? And then why was the other crew not disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct via the overhead footage of the race.

Clash of blades, a restart from the umpires, another clash of blades and you are disqualified. Where is the consistency!!

The Royal Henley Regatta is renowned for it’s dress code. This link sums it up clearly; 

Yet a great number of the crews competing over the regatta were dressed as if they were out for a training row with mismatched racing attire. Not very Henley to moi!

The umpires are over-zealous on dirty water, but it’s ok to row into the immovable objects on the extremities of the course. It is not the umpires role to steer a crew up the course but they should warn crews of the impeding danger for the crews on safety.

With the number of international crews and now with live internet coverage, HRR is no longer a regatta for the spectators on the bank or in the Stewards’ enclosure but truly an international event and the umpiring should now also step up. If footage is going to used for umpire rulings for one race it then should be applied to all red flag decisions. The overhead drone clearly showed a different picture to what the umpires view from the trailing umpires launch.

Captain TBRC


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Dan Spring

    Interesting viewpoints. Just one thing on the mismatched kit, a lot of crews race as composites (with only the first two clubs being mentioned in the programme) so for example in the “open” events (Grand, Stewards, Queen Mother, Remenham etc) the national teams often race, but one of the quirks of Henley is that they don’t race as the National Team, instead they race in their own club colours meaning that in an 8 for example you could have 4, 5 or even 6 clubs represented and each rower will wear their own clubs kit.

  2. Harry

    Hi Dan
    I was referring to the “Club” crews kit and what was being warn under their zootsuits or on their heads. A yellow card here for incorrect uniform. I noted one young ladies crew with an outstanding kit from matching hats to sun glasses and even matching socks.

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