A Beginner’s Guide To Henley Regatta

HRR. Three letters which conjure images of Pimms, lemonade, green deckchairs and lycra. Henley Royal Regatta is coming, and if you’ve never been before, it can all be rather daunting. But don’t panic…we’ve got a beginner’s guide to the Regatta, so you can blag your way through five days of coxes and caught crabs.

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Henley Royal Regatta

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Royal Ties

The middle ‘R’ stands for royal because in 1851 Prince Albert became the Regatta’s first Royal Patron. Since his death, the reigning Monarch has continued in the role. Members of the Royal Family have often visited the Regatta. Most recently The Princess Royal attended in 2010.

The Enclosures

The races can be watched from various points along the river, including sections that are completely free to access. However there are two ticketed enclosures, accessible only to those wearing the appropriate swing badge.

The Stewards’ Enclosure

Stewards’ stands on the Berkshire side of the river, by the Finish Line. The area is open to members of the Stewards’ Enclosure and their guests. There are currently around 6,500 members, with an additional 1000+ people on the waiting list. Membership can take up to ten years to obtain. Use of mobile phones is forbidden in the Stewards’ stands and there is also a strict dress code.

Dress Code

All gentlemen in the Stewards’ Enclosure are required to wear at least a jacket or blazer, and a tie or cravat. Many wear full suits. Ladies must wear dresses or skirts with a hemline below the knee. Men cannot wear shorts or jeans, and women are not allowed to wear trousers. It is customary for women to wear hats. Those not adhering to the dress code will be refused admission.

Henley Regatta Dress Code

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The Regatta Enclosure

Just downstream from the Stewards’ Enclosure, the Regatta Enclosure is open to the general public, competitors and supporters. The atmosphere in this enclosure is more relaxed and there is no dress code, however it is still ticketed and many choose to wear club blazers or rowing apparel. Spectators can watch the races from deckchairs along the riverside.

Pimms & Lemonade

It’s been estimated that 150,000 pints of Pimms and lemonade are drunk each year at the Regatta.

Classic Pimms is mixed one part Pimms to three parts lemonade in jugs with chopped fruit and cucumber, and then served in pints. The cheapest option at the Regatta is to bring your own – hundreds of people enjoy homemade picnics along the bank during the races. Numerous pop-up bars and vans can be found along the river selling all kinds of food and drinks. The Stewards’ Enclosure sells Pimms at a premium price, and all drinks must be consumed inside the enclosure.

Be sure to plan ahead and find a suitable hotel should you be sampling the famous Pimms!

Pimms at Henley Regatta

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The Competition

The Regatta itself takes place over five days and is a series of head-to-head knock out races. Competitors race in twenty different events, over a 1-mile course. The most prestigious event at the Regatta is the Grand Challenge Cup for Men’s Eights. While the Regatta used to be exclusively for amateur oarsmen, it is now completely open.

The Crews

Crews are comprised of different sizes depending on the event. Some crews have coxswains, others do not. Some crews will row (one blade), others scull (two blades).

The Boats

Rowing shells are usually made from layers of carbon fibre, fibreglass and plastic. Lightweight and narrow, the boats allow the rowers to slice through the water.

The front end of the shell is known as the bow. The back, where the cox usual sits, is known as the stern. Bow side is the right side of the boat, when sitting in the cox’s seat. Oars on this side often have a green marking. Stroke side is the left side of the boat, and oars on this side often have a red marking.

On the bow is a small round piece of rubber called a bow ball. It not only helps to protect people from injury in collisions, but helps to judge photo finishes.

Rowing Boats at Henley Regatta

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Oars are often referred to as blades for rowing, and sculls for sculling. They are made from carbon fibre and fibreglass. Cleavers are the most common type of oar. The blade or spoon is the end of the oar which is placed in the water, and used to propel the boat forward. The shaft is the hollow length of the oar. The oars sit in gates on the sides of the boat, and a small plastic piece called a collar keeps the oars from slipping out.

Oars at Henley Regatta

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The Rowers

Each person in the boat has a position. The bow seat sits at the front of the boat. The seats are then numbered upwards from 2, except the lead rower, who sits at the back and is known as the stroke.

The Stroke

The rower sitting nearest the stroke (and the cox, if there is one) is known as the stroke.  He or she is responsible for setting the stroke length and speed. As the rowers sit backwards in the boat, all the crew can see the stroke.

The Cox

The coxswain or ‘cox’ steers the boat. Boats without a cox are steered by the bow seat. The cox uses a rudder to steer the boat, whilst also managing the rowers in the boat. He or she is the only member of the crew to face forwards, and therefore see the course and competition properly. As the cox adds additional weight to the boat, he or she is ideally small in weight and stature.

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