As we sit in a cafe in Henley-on-Thames enjoying coffee and scones on our day off, all the events of yesterday already seem far away. We’ve recounted our version of events to one another several times now, but the thrill of competing in another country has not yet dulled.
From the earliest moments of the day, the Reading Amateur Regatta set itself apart from any other races we had competed in before. Courtney noted that “One of the most unique aspects of racing here was transportation to the racecourse. We traveled by two separate trains and walked through Reading with only a vague sense of where the racecourse was. Seeing the sign at the Henley train station, ‘Where winning crews get on board’ before we headed over, was an exciting way to start the day off.” Once at the racecourse, it was very clear that British regattas would prove even more different than the circumstances of our arrival. Reading, just like Henley Women’s Regatta next weekend, is set up as a series of boat-on-boat duels over a 1500m course, with one boat advancing from each race. The race was established in 1842 and featured 180 different crews from across the United Kingdom and the US, many of whom use it as a preparatory race for the next weekend. This course, in contrast to Henley’s, is full of curves. It begins with a staggered start, requiring boats in the outside lane to race from behind for the first 500m, before gaining the advantage with a sweeping curve heading into the straightaway at the finish.
The first race of the day, at 10:08 am, was Liza Tarbell’s duel in the Women’s Intermediate single scull. Although our online research of the other racer revealed that she might not be the most serious rower, Liza said “I learned the hard way that my opponent was not an ‘epic partier.'” The other sculler, a 7th year rower from Thames RC, went on to win the event, but not without a challenge from Liza. From the sidelines, Maddy commented, “It was so incredible to watch Liza make power moves against a woman twice her size.” The tenacious first year, who has been in the single for 2 weeks, chased the more experienced Brit throughout the 1500m course, rowing better and more confidently than ever before. The entire Henley crew is in absolute agreement that her race and her attitude inspired them to be better teammates and competitors.
In the Women’s Intermediate 4+ event, the William Brown crew faced off against one of the toughest boats in their division, Thames Rowing Club. Founded in 1860, the London-based group is one of the oldest and most prestigious rowing clubs in London and has produced 78 Olympians and 50 different winning crews at the Henley Women’s Regatta in just 26 years. The Bowdoin crew showed grit and determination, falling short by only 2 lengths to a boat that went on to the final. Erica commented on the regatta, “It was amazing to experience our first race at ‘the center of the rowing universe.’ Even if we didn’t advance as far as we would’ve liked, we still got to face off against Thames RC and felt the infectious energy of the crowds. Rowing is a totally different kind of spectator sport here in Britain!”
Amy also greatly appreciated the stark contrast in the experience of rowing in England as compared to in the US. “My favorite memory was sitting in the tea shop on the other side of the river and watching the boats racing down the Thames.” All in all, Nora looked at the race as a learning experience, commenting that “Our boat had a tough race, but we’re feeling much better prepared to attack the 1500 again next weekend.”
The Gibbons crew continued its undefeated season by claiming Bowdoin Rowing’s first ever gold-medal victory in an international regatta, competing in the Women’s Elite 4+ event. As Emily stated, “The way that we approached yesterday was that every win gave us one more race together, and I think that our collective attitude was a more powerful motivator than anything the other boats had.”
When describing the day, MB recalls that “Yesterday, off the water was a little bit of a struggle. We borrowed our boats, we didn’t have a trailer to ourselves, it started raining when we tried to take a nap on the grass, we had nowhere to go, we didn’t have a certificate to race in the final so Sophie and Coach had to run around while we were trying to launch. But at the start of both races, we set aside the chaos and went back to what we know best – racing.” In their first round, they competed against Thames RC’s top 4+, and they won decisively by 1.5 lengths against the far more experienced crew. Only an hour and a half later, after a shorter recovery period than they are used to, the crew was on the water again. This time, they faced off against Riverside Boat Club’s top 4+ boat, a Boston-based development team strongly favored to win Henley Women’s Regatta next weekend. Despite the headwind blowing down the course and the fact that Riverside had not yet raced, the Bowdoin women were able to beat Riverside by a boatlength, earning the Janet Snow Trophy and making an indelible impression on the British rowing community.
For Sophie, one of the greatest parts of the race was “heading down the course and hearing so many people cheering for Bowdoin – our teammates, our coaches, our families, and even the parents and coaches from WPI. Thank you for your support.” As a spectator, Liza commented, “To be immersed in the rowing culture of England was so exciting. It was thrilling to see a group of scrappy Americans take down the Brits, and to share in the excitement and joy of our Varsity crew excelling across the pond.”
Katie Ross summed up the sentiments of the Gibbons crew best when she said, “Winning the Reading Amateur Regatta was a true team effort. Before we raced, our teammates in the W. Brown and Liza in the scull battled against intense competition in their events. We watched as the Brown pulled with everything they had and listened as Liza recounted chasing down the woman who went on to win her event. They told us about the course – the staggered start and where its turns favored one crew or the other. What we did in the afternoon was a direct result of the inspiration, guidance and support of our teammates.”
Over the train ride home and during a late dinner of rice and beans, all of us talked eagerly about how special it was to get the chance to scrimmage this weekend, and how excited we are for the racing to come. Audrey commented, “It was such an honor to row against the unbelievably talented women of Thames RC – it was an amazing and inspiring experience. I cannot wait to row in the Henley Women’s Regatta next week and truly own our race and dominate the course.” MB seems just as excited to race against other crews as she is to continue maiming or slaying waterfowl. “I hit another goose during the finish sequence of our final race. I think it’s a sign. I’m preparing my blade for the geese at Henley.”