Henley Women’s Regatta 2014

I first raced at Henley Women’s Regatta (HWR) in 1991 in Club Coxed 4s; we had to qualify on the Friday in a time-trial and back then, all races were on the Saturday only. I won my first ever HWR medal that year with Thames Tradesmen and we had to get through six races in that day….and into a strong headwind! My ever-lasting memory when paddling up for the final was thinking to myself, “I’ve got this far, I am NOT going to lose this final!” We didn’t luckily but Bedford RC made it damned hard; they probably had the same thoughts going through their heads too but somehow, through the previous rounds I felt complete confidence in my crew-mates and for a relative scratch crew, it really gelled together. I do not really remember much about getting the medals; that race was everything and it still is one of my favourite wins.

So, 23 years later and I’m in a boat but it’s my lovely 1950s Sims wooden skiff which I moor up on the booms. I’m on the finish and have my camera ready for the finals. It was fantastic to see UL win the Academic 4+ event; had HWR been in existence back in 1986, I might have won that title. As an ex-captain of the ULWBC (as it was then), I proudly yelled encouragement at them towards the finish (not that they needed it at that stage). They beat Exeter University; however back in the 1980s, Exeter Uni was never really a force in rowing however to see them win the E Lwt 2- in the previous race, has highlighted what a force women’s rowing is in the South West of England alongside Exeter RC.

HWR has come a long way since 1988 as has women’s rowing. Back in 1991, I felt a bit of a fraud competing in an event which compensated for the lack of womens events in the HRR. How things have changed now that HRR, under the Chairmanship of Mike Sweeney, has introduced women’s rowing within the main rowing social event of the rowing calendar. However it has been great to see the level of support for a dedicated women’s event continuing to grow. My conclusion from watching the crews competing in Sunday’s finals is that women’s rowing has come a long way since 1991. The club and academic systems are now producing some very talented oarswomen and it is hardly surprising that we are now so competitive on an international stage. Long may it last and prosper…..

PS: When sifting through the photos, I could see a certain Guin Batten grinning straight at me through the lens from the finish tent. I didn’t realise she was there at the time. Guin has been pivotal in promoting women’s rowing, even before her Olympic success in 2000. Now that sister Miriam has taken over the organising of HWR, as in their rowing days, the Batten sisters remain at the forefront in driving women’s rowing onto greater things in the UK – long may it last and congratulations on a brilliant 2014 HWR!