Navigation included eight bridges and corners that were so curvy, crews had to develop turning tactics skilled enough to prevent crashing into banks or other crews.

“There are crowds that sit at the collision points,” says Peter Wilson, president of the Hawthorn Rowing Club, the club that has organised the event 59 times. But, says Wilson, the event mainly goes unnoticed in the hustle of the busy city.

The race is only for eights and the racing categories range from school to club to masters boat classes as well as a para PR3 mixed eight. Entries come from across Australia as well as internationally. This year ten international crews competed hailing from New Zealand, Japan and the United States.

An ongoing rivalry between two Melbourne clubs, Melbourne University Boat Club (MUBC) and Mercantile in the men’s and women’s open class saw Mercantile win for the women this year. This revenged the 2016 win by MUBC. Just 13 seconds separated the two boats with MUBC finishing second. The Mercantile crew included 2017 World Champion from the women’s four, Katrina Werry, former under-23 medallist, Addy Dunkley-Smith and Rio Olympians Sally Kehoe and Jennifer Cleary.

2017 Head of the Yarra, Melbourne, AUS, finish line © Steve McArthur/Rowing Celebration

For the men a Sydney/Adelaide composite crew finished first in the men’s open category and won overall in a time of 25:01. The men’s open category saw the top four boats finishing within 16 seconds of each other. Mercantile was second, Sydney University third and MUBC composite finished fourth. The Sydney/Adelaide winning boat included three members of the 2017 World Champion men’s four – Joshua Hicks, Spencer Turrin and Alexander Hill.

To stage an event of this size takes a large level of organisation and this falls into the hands of the rowing club that sits at the finish line, Hawthorn Rowing Club. Wilson says they started preparation 18 months ago.
Run by volunteers, Wilson says on the day 130 people make the event run smoothly. This includes a timekeeper that has been in the role for 25 years. Nearly all members of Hawthorn Rowing Club have a role to play. “There’s only six people out of our whole membership of 150 who aren’t helping,” says Wilson. Which means Hawthorn rowers rarely get to race themselves. Although, adds Wilson, some years a special dispensation is made for a crew to race.

Head of the Yarra by the numbers

Boat classes … 32
Boat class with the most entries … men’s D masters (average age 50 years or more)
Distance … 8600m
Number of seats ... 2064
Number of rowers … 2189
Youngest … 12 years old (coxswain)
Oldest … 89 years old

For more on the event see here:

Men’s open winner:
Sydney/Adelaide: Edward White, Charlie Patterson, Christopher Morgan, Alexander Hill, Spencer Turrin, Nathan Bowden, Angus Moore, Joshua Hicks, cox: Kendall Brodie.

Women’s open winner:
Mercantile: Georgia Stewart, Amanda Bateman, Madeleine Thomas, Olivia Sibillin, Sally Kehoe, Addy Dunkley-Smith, Katrina Werry, Jennifer Cleary, cox: Sarah Banting.