Royal Henley Regatta
It’s the Henley Royal Regatta in Oxfordshire, England this weekend, one of the most famous boating events in the world and one of the largest conferences of straw hats in the universe. The races run for five days along a stretch of the River Thames, with spectators crowding the banks of the river to cheer on the international rowers. Henley is half–sporting event, half–garden party, with a rigorous dress code and a daily tea break in the afternoon. Here are five things to know about the unusually civilized competition:
It is largely a Private Members’ Club much of the grassy shoreline is taken up by the Stewards’ Enclosure, an area reserved for members and their guests. The waiting time to become a member is around a decade, so you can either make friends with someone who thought ahead or book tickets for the Regatta Enclosure, a smaller patch of lawn near the starting line which is open to the public.
Women are not allowed to wear trousers, only dresses or skirts with hemlines below the knee are permitted in the Stewards’ Enclosure. No midriffs either, please. Hats are appreciated, though wedding guest–style fascinators are a bit fussy for plopping down in a lawn chair—something straw, with a ribbon, is perfect.
Tailgating is encouraged and it’s marvelous. Cars are parked in a nearby meadow and interspersed with tents, picnic baskets, and tubs of Champagne. At lunchtime it isn’t unusual to see tables set for 12, groaning under cold salads and sandwiches. During the tea interval at around 4:30 p.m., the best-prepared guests whip out Victoria sponge cakes.
The sport is congenial though the races are hard-fought, both the athletes and the spectators are polite. Every boat gets applause from the sidelines, and when the race is over, the teams traditionally give three cheers to one another just beyond the finish line. The winning boat congratulates the losing boat, and then vice versa (Three cheers for Winchester! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!).