UNSEASONAL weather could not dampen the spirit of competitors and spectators at the 163rd Henley Royal Regatta.
There was a record number of foreign entries in the 20 events and an estimated total of 200,000 people watched the five days of action.
Two of the highlights were a row-past by the royal barge Gloriana and the gathering of 170 Olympians on finals day on Sunday.
Although none of the current English Olympians took part, seven of the finals were between British-only crews.
Henley Rowing Club won the inaugural junior women’s quad event and Leander won both the Prince of Wales Challenge Cup and the Double Sculls Challenge Cup.
While the windy and wet conditions could not keep away the spectators, they did challenge the rowers.
Sir Matthew Pinsent, a four-times Olympic champion and a Henley steward, said: “The regatta has been below Olympic standard for very understandable reasons but for the under-23s it has been fantastic.
“You won’t find many people on the podium at London 2012 who have not been through Henley once.”
Regatta chairman Mike Sweeney thanked the 133 foreign crews that competed.
“It was tough but we do appreciate you,” he said. “Last year there were 19 race finals and the records tumbled by a total of 30 seconds.
“This year it took the eight in the final of the Grand Challenge eight minutes and 56 seconds, 59 seconds slower than last year. That just indicates how hard it has been.”
The regatta began on Wednesday with a row-past to mark the announcement of the rowing team for the Paralympics.
Leander’s Pamela Relph, from Caversham, was one of eight athletes who took to the water and said it was a “dream come true”.
Sunday’s row-past by Gloriana featured 18 Olympians from every Games that Britain has medalled at since 1948. Crowds lined the towpath and the regatta enclosures to watch the golden vessel.
Christine Cook, 61, from Sonning, said: “To see Gloriana up close and on the regatta course was amazing. That boat is something very special, just like the regatta, and I think it is fitting that it was here.”
Later in the day the 170 Olympians gathered to pose for a photograph and to watch the presentation ceremony.
Among them were Sir Matthew, Sir Steve Redgrave, James Cracknell, Richard Budgett, who is chief medical officer for the Olympics, Sir Adrian Cadbury, Michael Lapage and Paul Bircher, who rowed at the 1948 Games, sisters Guin and Miriam Batten and Gillian Lindsay, who won Britain’s first women’s rowing medal in Sydney in 2000.
Chris Davidge, who took part in three Olympic games, praised the event.
“It is unique in every way,” he said. “The way it is staged, the surroundings and it has the best crews in the world.
“A president of the International Rowing Federation who was a Leanderphile and a steward always used to tell oarsman all over the world, ‘If you haven’t rowed at Henley, you have never rowed’. No other regatta in the world comes anywhere near it.”
The prizes were presented by the Rt Hon Alderman David Wootton, Lord Mayor of the City of London. He is a Leander member who captained the Jesus College, Cambridge boat club in 1972.
He is supporting the Rowing Foundation and London Youth Rowing as part of his Lord Mayor’s Appeal.
He said: “The diamond jubilee was an excellent example of a very British skill — keeping the very best of the past but using it to make a better future, welcoming change to stay the same.
“Henley has done the same, not just surviving a time where all talk was of multi-laned courses but keeping what made it work originally and combining that with what the people want.
“Sometimes that means saying no to change and adding the expertise, professionalism and management skills of international sport of the highest level. This is Henley, it’s the same but it’s different, and we’re all very proud of it.”
The Leander winners wore pink chinos to collect their cups. The winning Henley Rowing Club women had to settle for medals as their event was new and the regatta must make sure it is successful before organising a trophy.
Mr Sweeney said: “We are confident that the event will establish itself very quickly. We were delighted with the 15-boat entry this year.”
Off the water, a ton of strawberries was eaten and between 20,000 and 25,000 pints of Pimm’s and 4,500 bottles of champagne were drunk across the site.
The regatta enclosure bar sold out of Möet, house champagne, red wine and bottles of Corona by Saturday morning, while the most popular beverage was Japanese beer Asahi. Best-selling items in the regatta shop were entry
T-shirts and vests with the event logo.
The most expensive item was a pair of slippers priced at £195. The shop has sold 10 pairs in the past three years, including two this year.
Shop manager Claire Cattermole, 19, from Sonning, said: “We sell pretty much anything. If you can think of it, we sell it. People do ask for some odd things, though. One person wanted a painting of the number 73.”
Sales assistant Alex Jones, 19, from Charvil, said: “The shop is mainly for the rowers so they come in wanting mementos. ”
Two decorated eggs were presented by regatta secretary Daniel Grist to Michael Pritchard, the chairman of the trustees for Temple Island, as rent in a special ceremony on Saturday.
The tradition dates back to 1987, when the island was passed into the stewardship of the regatta trustees. This year’s eggs were made from beech wood sourced from a tree that grew on the island until it became diseased and had to be felled.
Mr Pritchard said: “I think it’s exciting that each year the regatta comes up with a different sort of egg. We’ve had wooden eggs, stone eggs, real eggs and a whole variety.”
The only grumble from regatta visitors was the lack of mobile phone coverage.
Henley town councillor Martin Akehurst said: “I was down there on Friday afternoon and my party’s mobile phones stopped working. The phones were showing good signal but the system was overloaded and no calls could be made.
“I got a message telling me I had three new voice mails at 5.15pm on Sunday but it was timed at 3.45pm on Friday.”