Henley Women's Regatta 2014

For most of the Thames women’s squad the season’s training and preparation culminated in the Henley Women’s Regatta and both our athletes and the weather did not disappoint at this very well-organised and attended regatta.

Thames were represented by a wide array of boat classes in several categories with no less then 8 crews comprised of 2 club fours, 2 senior coxed fours, an elite coxless four, a club eight, an elite coxless pair, a senior lightweight double and a senior lightweight single. Four of these crews progressed as far as the Sunday where in the morning they would race in semi-finals battling for spots in the afternoon finals.

The morning got off to an exciting and nail-biting start with the elite coxless pairs semi-final in which club stalwarts Emma Windham and Sophie Slaney raced against a very polished and stylish French U23 combination. The Thames duo got off to a bumpy start hitting a couple of buoys off of the stake boat which, cost them a length and a half of water before they had reached the top of Temple Island but much to Emma and Sophie’s credit they regained composure and relaxed into a lovely loose and aggressive rhythm which saw their bow ball claw its way back to within half a length of their opposition with 350m of the famous course left to row. Sensing victory the Thames combination lifted their rate and for all money looked as if they were going to move through to the front of the race and snatch victory on the line but the misfortunes at the start and the energy expended to fight their way back to within striking distance of the opposition left them with no answer when the French launched into their final sprint with 100m to go, seeing them winning by no more then half a boat length.

Thames’ second 2-woman boat racing on the Sunday were next under way this time in the form of Claire Birchenough and Ellie Garratt in the senior lightweight double. The always enthusiastic “lighties” despatched of a very good crew from Llandlaff RC in the quarter-finals but found reaching the finals a step too far losing to Mortlake and Anglican Boat Club.

The senior coxed four of Maddy O’Shaughnessy-Hunter, Beatrix Sheldrick, Lauren Clarke, Sarah Jones and cox Hannah Burke were our third crew to be knocked out in Sunday morning's semi-finals, falling to Riverside Boat Club from Boston, USA. Despite passing the enclosures half a length of clear water up, Riverside fought back and managed to nudge their boat ahead just before the line.

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After the coxed fours departure from the competition attention shifted to Thames’s final boat left in the regatta, the Club Eight. The crew of the recently named Empacher shell, the “Alison Knowles”, eased to victory in their quarter-final against Exeter RC on Saturday by 4 lengths and commanded their semi-final from start to finish against the Lea, winning by the same margin.

Up against Nottingham Rowing Club in the final the ladies from Thames found themselves already a half a length down before they had even reached the top of the island. The crew stroked by Katie O’Toole and followed by Claire Harvey, Cayley Firth, Jess Denman, Vicki Mortimor, Bernice Cutler, Ellie Fielding, Hannah Luck and coxed by Richard Darcy had never really shown their best form in racing all season long, in part perpetuated by their own very high standards, but saved their best rowing for last.

Absorbing Nottingham’s early barrage of sprints and pushes, no doubt in attempting to rattle their opposition, the crew stuck to their guns and settled into an unstoppable rhythm which quickly saw them move back onto Nottingham and then clean through them. With each passing stroke the crew grew in confidence and produced a fine display of rowing described by the commentator as, “superior to their opposition in both technique and watermanship ”. Crossing the line 2 and a half lengths clear of their rivals the Thames crew had onboard, namely Hannah Luck and Bernice Cutler who began rowing at Thames as novices. Many congratulations and thanks must also go to the coaches of the 2014 Henley Women’s Club Eights Champions, Sheena Cassidy, Tom Pressley and James Renwick who produced such a fine crew.