Head of The River Race 2011

Leander I beats almost 400 boats to win historic event

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Slideshow of Head of River Race by Ian Wylie

"My dear boy, you are under a wrong impression. It is not a race, it is merely a means of getting crews to do long rows" Head of River founder Steve Fairbairn


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393 boats took to the Thames last weekend for Head of The River Race (HORR) 2011.

The annual processional rowing race saw Leander I crew triumph over the 4.25 mile (6.8 km) Championship Course from Mortlake to Putney (the reverse of the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race) with a time of 16 50.75.

Molesey I crew came in second closely followed by OS Czech Rowing Federation from Czech Republic who were awarded the trophy for overseas entrants.

Full results and timings can be found at: www.horr.co.uk/finish.htm

The race was founded in 1926 by rowing coach Steve Fairbairn who was a great believer in the importance of distance training over the winter ("Mileage makes champions" was a favourite phrase). He devised the race while coaching at Thames Rowing Club to encourage this form of training and raise the standard of winter training among London clubs.

There followed a meeting of the Captains of the Metropolitan Clubs, where the idea was received with great enthusiasm, and it was agreed that the first race would be held on Sunday December 12, 1926. Despite the choice of day, the race went ahead with 23 entries (21 started) at a cost of 5/- per crew.

"So far the ARA were slumbering in sweet ignorance of the horrible fact that racing was taking place on a Sunday. So the Committee bravely fixed Sunday, 27th March as the date for the second race, but the publicity the event had received had drawn the attention of the ARA and at a meeting of the committee on February 19th a letter was read from the ruling body pointing out that it might be necessary to alter the date of the race as the ARA might pass a resolution banning racing on Sundays... The Head of the River Committee agreed to abandon the December race and row one annual race in March or thereabouts on Saturday afternoons."

With the future of the race agreed, the number of entrants steadily rose. There was no race in 1937 (there was no suitable tide on a Saturday and at that time organized competitive sport did not take place on Sundays) and none from 1940-45 inclusive due to the second world war. The event was restarted in 1946 (naturally starting with a smaller number of entrants - 71 crews) and has taken place annually ever since, with the exceptions of 2004 and 2007 when the race was cancelled due to bad weather, in the latter instance after most crews were on the river and 45 crews had started.

From 1979 onwards, due to the sheer volume of competitors and for reasons of safety on a relatively small area of river and riverside, the HORR Committee had at that point to impose a limit of 420 crews, which still exists today. The race is usually substantially oversubscribed.

The race is only open to men's eights and is considered to be the peak of the head race season — attracting the top UK crews as well as foreign clubs. Composite crews, drawn from more than one club or institution, are not permitted.

The Championship Course is that of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race but, unlike the Boat Race, the Head of the River Race is raced on an ebb tide from Mortlake to Putney. The starting time for the race is different every year and depends on the tide — the first crew (winner from the previous year) starts the race the next year. Start time is usually about 2 hours after high tide and crews start at about 10 second intervals.

April 7, 2011