The Head Of The River Race 2015

Over 400 crews will race from Mortlake to Putney on Sunday

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Head of The River 2013
Head of The River 2013

The Head of The River Race

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The Head of the River Race (HORR) is happening on Sunday 29th March at noon - the race is rowed annually in March from Mortlake to Putney on the Tideway in London. Over 400 crews of eights take part, making it one of the highest participation events in London.

This year it is unusual the race is on a Sunday. The HORR websites informs us that 'as any Tideway oarsman knows, although the Tide Tables do not dictate the time of outings, they do set out and limit the amount of time spent going in whatever direction.

'When planning a major Race, it is clearly essential to factor-in the amount of time required for each part of the process – for example, an hour for a crew to get from Putney to a marshalling slot near Kew Bridge, almost two hours between first-start-to-last-finish and up to 90 minutes for the last finisher to make it back to (for example) the UL boathouse. There has to be sufficient water for all finished crews to be able to navigate safely around Putney Pier, and then along the Hard 2 or 3 abreast, not forgetting – for some returners – the shallows around Hammersmith Bridge and under Barnes Bridge. Further, do not forget daylight – even if their boat is equipped with lights, it is not completely safe to have a non-Tideway crew returning to its base in the dark.'

The Head of the River Race was founded by Steve Fairbairn, the Cambridge and Tideway oarsman, in order to give crews something to aim for at the end of the winter training period.

It is rowed over the 4¼ mile Thames ChampionshipMarch 27, 2015 reverse) and is usually held on the third or fourth Saturday in March, depending on the tides.

The first race was held in 1926 and 21 crews took part. There was no race in 1937 (there was no suitable tide on a Saturday and no competitive sport took place on Sundays at that time) and none from 1940-45 inclusive, but the race was restarted in 1946 and has taken place annually ever since.

What started as an event for Tideway crews has grown steadily until it now attracts crews from all over the British Isles and beyond.

The largest non-British contingent is usually from Germany but, over the years, crews have come from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA. As the race is rowed on a falling (ebb) tide, this reduces the space available for marshalling beforehand and when, in 1978, the total entry passed 400 for the first time, the organisers felt obliged for safety reasons to impose an overall limit of 420. If more entries than this are received, a draw has to be held to bring the numbers down to the agreed limit.

The race is processional; that is, crews start one behind the other at 10-second intervals, the winner being the crew which returns the fastest time. The previous year’s winner starts first, followed by the other finishers in time order and then by new entries in alphabetical order within their classifications.

Some overseas crews which are predicted to be fast are inserted higher up the start order for safety’s sake. The race takes approximately two hours from the time that the first crew starts to the last crew finishing.

The average time taken for the course used to be between 19 and 20 minutes but this has gradually decreased and the record is now 16 minutes, 37.00 seconds, set by the Great Britain national crew in 1987.

The first overseas winners were the German Olympic gold medallists in 1993; they won again the following year and the Dutch national crew won in 1995. Since then, apart from 1999-2001, when Queens Tower were the winners, Leander Club have generally won, except for 2009 when a crew comprising five of the finalists from the 2008 Olympic Single Sculls with three others of equal standing were brought together by Bill Barry of Tideway Scullers. This crew gave the spectators a real treat and it is a pity that it is unlikely to be repeated.

In Steve Fairbairn’s time, the Head crew received individual medals and a pennant for the club, while the crews finishing second and third also received a pennant. In view of the much larger entry now, pennants were introduced for the various classifications recognised by British Rowing (formerly the Amateur Rowing Association) and there are also prizes for the fastest crews from various geographical areas of the country.

It remains the case that only the winning crew receives individual Fairbairn medals and they are consequently highly prized by their recipients, although category winners now receive medals of a different design.

March 26, 2015

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