Tomorrow (3rd July 2013) marks the beginning of one of the oldest (and most prestigious sporting events in the world which was first held in 1839. Henley Royal Regatta lasts for five days and pits the best rowing talent against one another in a series of knock out competitions. The course is 1 mile 550 yards (2.112 km) long and crews are kept in a straight line by the infamous "booms" which are white wooden posts and beams laid in the river to mark the course. The narrow course has meat that many crews have fallen foul of the booms by catching their blades on them or worse still, crashing straight into them!
Each competition at Henley has its own name and includes only boats of a certain type. For example the "Ladies Plate" includes only elite 8s where as the "Temple Challenge Cup" is for University 8s only. The majority of events are men only however there is a separate Henley Women's Regatta which is held in the weeks before Henley Royal. In 1993 however, a women's single sculling event was added to the program. A women's 8s event followed in 2000 and in 2001 women's and men's quadruple sculls were added.
The majesty and tradition of Henley draws in crews from around the world who want to show that they've got what it takes to compete and win against the top level athletes in the sport.
Aside from the standard of the rowing, Henley is also famous for drawing colourful crowds of supporters. Gentlemen line the banks dressed in chinos and brightly coloured blazers (often in club colours) and the ladies bring out their most stylish summer dress and head wear to create a scene which is comparable to Ascot or The Proms.
The course has various enclosures along the banks including the Stewards Enclosure and the Remenham club which are invite only! From here you can enjoy a quintessentially British experience with Pimm's, English summer weather and a bucket load of "hurrahs" and "jolly good shows"! If however your upper lip isn't quite so stiff, you can still cheer on the crews from the tow path without an invite.
After the success of team GB at Dorney Lake during the 2012 Olympics, the profile of rowing is higher than ever. As 2013 isn't an Olympic year you can expect to see crews competing which include members from international squads which only adds to the excitement.
The event is run by a self-elected group of people called "stewards". Becoming a steward is a great honour and current stewards include Olympic legends Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent. Keep an eye out for them as well as other celebrities along the bank.
Henley is a free event but costs around £2 million to stage. When you consider that you get to see the most elite athletes competing for free, it's a great value day out.