Eight blades laid out before the big race

Blades ready before the big race

July 2016, Henley-on-Thames

I often find interesting things during my brief wanders though the boating area while working at Henley Royal Regatta. At the start of the week-long event there is a perpetual flow of crews boating and returning to land, a constant murmur throughout the large boat tent area and grassy waterfront as athletes and their associated entourages congregate to congratulate or console on performances. It’s actually quite a challenge to compose meaningful shots within the hustle and bustle – with so much going on you learn to grow eyes in the back of your head – lest you have it taken off by a boat swinging round as it’s carried to its rack! As the days progress, and with fewer crews left in the knock-out competition, the pace around the boat tents is reduced to sporadic appearances and the noise down to a whisper – yet with more at stake with each passing round, the tension mounts as crews reach finals day on Sunday.

Each crew has their own ritual going afloat, much like their established rowing stroke they have honed as a cohesive unit together. Some push off the landing stage all at once with one big step into the boat, some huddle shoulder-to-shoulder before even placing their hands on the boat, whilst others solemnly march out with little fanfare to face the job at hand. In this instance a crew had laid out all their blades against the boat tent, and in order, perfectly lined up for each crew member to take their oar in turn when the time came. Maintaining the form both on and off the water imbues a discipline and meticulous level of preparation towards a goal. The contrasting canvas of the boat tents formed the perfect backdrop to this orderly display, clean bright blade surfaces against the formal stripes, all lined up prepared and ready to go. It’s all part of the ritual.

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