Rowing on the River Thames

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The Thames is one of the main rowing rivers in Europe. The sport and recreational/touring rowing takes place on the Tideway and on the 45 separate lock reaches on the non-tidal section.

The river hosts a televised succession of races on which bets are placed – traditionally named The Boat Race and for some decades a men-only event – it is now the (Oxford and Cambridge) Men's and Women's Boat Race on the cusp of March and April. Further inland the river hosts a tournament week of racing: Henley Royal Regatta which culminates the first weekend of July.

It is on the long, tidal course of the Boat Race, the Championship Course, that at least 12 head of the river races are held every year – including the Head of the River Race which is the weekend before the Boat Race, attracting hundreds of racing shell eights. Head races are, by definition, long time trials. Twice as many heads are held on long, narrower reaches of the canalised inland river. Many clubs and a few schools and village fair committees as far inland as Oxford host shorter races – regattas – in warmer months.

Dorney Lake between Slough and Windsor, Berkshire is an international Cup, standard-distance rowing lake besides the Thames, and hosts the three main annual entry regattas for Henley: still named Marlow (International), Wallingford and Metropolitan. Other rowing lakes near the Thames are the Redgrave Pinsent Rowing Lake between Reading and Henley used by the Great Britain squad and Royal Albert Dock near North Woolwich, London.

Today punts are almost wholly recreational. Event-raced, self-propelled boats on the Thames chiefly comprise (Olympic) racing shells, (Thames) skiffs, dragon boats, dongolas, dinghies, inflatable rafts and larger skiffs known as cutters. Most events are for racing shells.

Rowing in winter on The Isis also known as Thames
Regatta at Molesey (1874) Alfred Sisley

Regattas[edit]

Thames rowing regattas are almost all between April and the first week of September. All but the most prestigious are considered short. They are raced side-by-side. They are in categories for competitors and boat types: each consists of heats (mostly knock-out tournaments, that is, without repechages) and final. Many regatta days are split into two or more divisions so that competitors can enter two categories – such as a large and small boat, sweep-oar or sculling. Where category events have a cup it belongs to the regatta and is sometimes engraved with winners' club or composite clubs' name (or engraved on metal set around a plinth or set of plinths). Winners receive a medal – or tankard, called by rowers a "pot". A regatta in racing shell rowing has umpires/stewards who enforce preparedness (race registration, safety and marshalling time/location rules), false start and lane rules using a motor launch and the wearing of club kit.

Event Special Month Place or Reach above... Approx. start point Direction Distance
Barnes and Mortlake Regatta 06 Tideway 1000 m
Borne at Chiswick Bridge 05 Tideway 1000 m
Burway Junior Regatta Junior 07 Chertsey Lock Burway RC, Laleham Down 600 m
Chertsey Regatta Skiffing 07 Shepperton Lock Dumsey Meadow Down 500 m
Chiswick Regatta 04/05 Tideway 1000 m
Egham Regatta 06 Bell Weir Lock Bell Weir Up 650 m
Goring and Streatley Regatta General (no racing shells) 07 Cleeve Lock Lower Basildon Down 500 m
Hammersmith Regatta 04 Tideway
(Crab Tree/Chiswick Reach)
Fulham football ground (flood tide)/
Lep wharf (ebb tide)
1400 m
Hampton Court and Dittons Regatta Skiffing 07 Teddington Lock River Mole Down 650 m
Henley Royal Regatta 07 Hambleden Lock Temple Island Up 2112 m
Henley Town and Visitors Regatta 07/08 Hambleden Lock Temple Island Up 1000 m
Henley Veterans Regatta Veterans 07 Hambleden Lock Temple Island Up 1000 m
Henley Women's Regatta Ladies 06 Hambleden Lock Temple Island Up 1500 m
Kingston Regatta 07 Teddington Lock Raven's Ait Down 1000 m
Maidenhead Regatta 08 Bray Lock Maidenhead Railway Bridge Up 500 m
Maidenhead Junior Regatta Junior 05 Bray Lock Maidenhead Railway Bridge Up 500 m
Marlow Regatta 06 Dorney Lake Still 2000 m
Marlow Spring Regatta 04/05 Marlow Lock Bisham Abbey Down 950 m
Marlow Town Regatta 06 Marlow Lock Bisham Abbey Down 900 m
Metropolitan Regatta 05/06 Dorney Lake Still 2000 m
Molesey Regatta 07 Molesey Lock Platts Eyot Down 850 m
Molesey Junior Regatta Junior 07 Molesey Lock Platts Eyot Down 500 m
Oxford City Royal Regatta 08 Iffley Lock Down 1000 m
Oxford City Sprint Regatta 08 Iffley Lock Down 500 m
Putney Town Regatta 05 Tideway
Fulham Reach
1200 m
Reading Amateur Regatta 06 Caversham Lock St Mary's Island Down 1500 m
Reading Town Regatta Thames Valley Park bank 06 Sonning Lock Up 800 m
Richmond Regatta 06 Tideway (Horse Reach) Downstream end of Eel Pie Island Down 1250 m
Skiff Championships Regatta Skiffing 08 Hambleden Lock Henley on Thames Down 750 m
Sonning Regatta General (no racing shells) 05, biennial Sonning Lock Sonning Eye bank above lock Either 300 m approx
Staines Regatta 07 Penton Hook Lock South of Saint Peter's Church Down 500 m
Sunbury Amateur Regatta General (rarely has racing shell J1x) 08 Molesey Lock Sunbury Court Island Up 650 m
Thames Ditton Regatta 05 Teddington Lock By Thames Ditton Island Up 920 m
Thames Valley Park Regatta 06 Sonning Lock Up 500 m
Twickenham Regatta 05 Tideway (Horse Reach) Downstream end of Eel Pie Island 1250 m
Wallingford Regatta 05 Dorney Lake Still 2000 m
Walton and Weybridge Regatta 05/06 Sunbury Lock Walton Bridge Down 1000 m
Walton Reach Regatta Skiffing 08 Sunbury Lock Walton on Thames Down 600 m
Wargrave and Shiplake Regatta General (no racing shells) 08 Marsh Lock Shiplake Railway Bridge Down 400 m
Weybridge Ladies Regatta Ladies 06 Sunbury Lock End of Desborough Cut Up 900 m
Wraysbury and Old Windsor Regatta Skiffing 07 Bell Weir Lock Hythe End Down 500 m

"General" refers to a mix of skiffing, cutters, dinghies and other rowed craft.

Head of the River and long-distance events[edit]

Head of the River races (Heads) and other long-distance events dominate the winter months, and are usually processional (time trials): competitors set off at time intervals, and results are on the basis of comparative timing or by bumping (catching up the boat in front). Many of them on the Tideway are raced over The Championship Course, and apart from the Boat Race and Wingfield Sculls, may begin from Mortlake (west) or Putney (east) whichever tide matches the middle of the day or other central racing hours.

Event Special Month Area or Lock Reach Approx. start point Direction Distance
Abingdon Head / Spring Head 04 Culham Lock S.W. of Culham Cut's west end Up 2000 m
Burway Head 02 Chertsey Lock M3 Bridge Up 3000 m
Burway Small Boats Head 12 Chertsey Lock M3 Bridge Up 3000 m
Eights Week University of Oxford 05 Iffley Lock Up
Greenwich Head 02 Tideway Wapping Pier to P,B&D RC Either, usu. down 5633 m
Hammersmith Head 03 Tideway Chiswick Bridge Down 4425 m
Hampton Fours and Eights Head Junior 01 Molesey Lock East of Sunbury Lock Down 3000 m
Head of the River Fours (the Fours Head) 11 Tideway Championship Course Either 6800 m
Head of the River Race (the) 03 Tideway Championship Course Either 6800 m
Henley Fours and Eights Head 02 Hambleden Lock Downstream of Temple Island Up 3000 m
Henley Junior Head Junior 02 Hambleden Lock Downstream of Temple Island Up 3000 m
Henley Sculls Head 11 Hambleden Lock Downstream of Temple Island Up 3000 m
Isis Sculls 09 Iffley Lock Isis Boathouse Up 1850 m (shorter for Div.4)
Kingston Head 03 Teddington Lock River Mole Down 5200 m
Kingston Small Boats Head 11 Teddington Lock Dittons SPC Down 5000 m
Marlow Long Distance Sculls 11 Cookham Lock Cookham Bridge Up 2400/4800 m
Molesey Veteran and Junior Head Masters & Juniors 02 Molesey Lock East of Sunbury Lock Down 3000 m
Oxford City Bumping Races 04 Iffley Lock
Pangbourne Junior Sculls Junior 11 Whitchurch Lock Child Beale Park Down 3000 m
Pairs Head (also for doubles) 10 Tideway Championship Course Either 6800 m
Quintin Head (eights only) 01/02 Tideway Univ. stone/pole to Harrods Wharf Either, usu. down 4600 m
Reading Small Boats Head 10 Caversham Lock 1000m downstream of Roebuck Hotel Down 3300 m
Reading University Head of the River 02/03 Caversham Lock The Roebuck Hotel, Tilehurst Down 4500 m
Schools' Head of the River Race Junior 03 Tideway Championship Course Either 6800 m
Teddington Small Boats Head 11 Teddington Lock Dittons Skiff and Punting Club Down 5000 m
Thames Valley Trial Head 01 Dorney Lake
Torpids University of Oxford 03 Iffley Lock Up
Tiffin Small Boats Head 10 Teddington Lock Garden gates of Hampton Court Palace Down 5300 m
Upper Thames Small Boats Head 10 Hambleden Lock Up 3500 m
Vesta Veterans International VIIIs Head of River Masters 03 Tideway Championship Course Either 6800 m
(Vesta/the) Scullers Head of River 09 Tideway Championship Course Either 6800 m
Veteran Fours Head Masters 11 Tideway Championship Course Either 6800 m
Wallingford LD Sculls 10 Cleeve Lock Moulsford Railway Bridge Up 4000 m
Walton Small Boats Head 12 Sunbury Lock Elmbridge Canoe Club Down 3000 m
Weybridge Silver Sculls 10 Sunbury Lock Top end of E.A. barges upstream of Sunbury Weir Up 3300 m
Weybridge Winter Head 01 Sunbury Lock Top end of E.A. barges upstream of Sunbury Weir Up 3000 m
Wingfield Sculls 10 Tideway Putney With the flood tide 6800 m
Women's Head Ladies 03 Tideway Championship Course Either 6500 m

Other events[edit]

Clubs[edit]

Rowing on the river is generally organised through clubs based on the Thames, which include the following.

Competing many times per year[edit]

Universities[edit]

Schools[edit]

References[edit]

  • British Rowing Almanack (2006)

External links[edit]