Tom Charlton had won the Olympic gold medal but he had never rowed in the Henley Royal Regatta.

Brian Keane came to Henley last year with the University of Pennsylvania's lightweight vasity crew but couldn't row because he was ill. He wanted another chance.

With 19 years separating them in age, both men made their Henley debuts with a Potomac Boat Club crew that easily won its first race today to advance to the Wyfold Cup quarterfinals.

Potomac, of Washington, D.C., increased tis lead over the Worcester Rowing Club from one lengths at the mile post.

At the end of the one-miles and 550-yard race, officials hoisted the wooden board proclaiming "easily," henley's description of a victory by any distance over five lenghts.

Charlton is a minor celebrity here because he's competing at the "advanced" age of 42. One of his teammates Townsend Swayze, is "almost 40" himself, his young son confided conspiratorially.

The uncoxed-four's other member, Bob Blakely, credited the older men's experience as a "considerable facotr" here, particularly Charlton's steady steering against a strong headwind.

Steering is especially important on Henley's narrow course, where a veer one way or the other can result in disqualification or collision with the booms. Potomac broke an oar blade in pratice in this way.

Swayze and Charlton, who have revolved together for six years, decided that this was the year for Charlton to realize his ambition of rowing at Hemley.

Swayze hasn't been to Henley since 1959 when his Harvard crew won the Guand Challenge Cup.

Harvard's hopes this year in the regatta's top event ended abruptly today when it lost by a quarter length to Garda Siochana, the Irish police crew. There was never more than half a length between the two crews, and Harvard had a slight advantage, made its move and Harvard was unable to pull even again.

Garda faces the University of Eashington in one of Saturday's semifinals. Washington and Cornell, which must now against the British national eight, had drawn byes into the last four of the Grand Challenge.

U.S. crews were most successful in the Wyfold Cup. In addition to Potomac, Harvard and California also made it to the quarterfinals.

Syracuse's IRA champion freshman eight is the only American crew remaining in the Thames Cup. Syracuse won its heat over Quintin Boat Club. William College, Washington and St. Anthony hall were less successful.

Washington's one-length loss to Kingston was unexpected as the lighweight eight was one of the crews "selected"as a favorite by the regatta stewards.In what the umpire described as a "marvelous race," Washington took the lead just before the mile, but Kinfston spurted to pull level by the 1 1/8-miles market and kept the lead over the last several hundred yards.

Another Syracuse entry, David Townsley and Tom Evancie in the pairs, won the second straight day to get the semifinals of the Silver Goblets.

Harvard's Chris Stone and Gregg Wood advanced to the double-sculls semifinals, and Jim Dietz of the New York Athletic Club rowed Diamond Sculls.

Princess Anne marked her mother's silver jubilee today with a visit designed to emphasize the regatta's "Royal" connection. She arrived in an elaborately decorated barge called a "shallop," which was rowed by 10 red-liveried oarsman. Among her escorts was the "bargemaster of the worshipful company of fishmongers."

The air of Hollywood-on-Thames was not entirely misleading. The shallop had been built for the film "A Man for All Seasons."

Princess Anne later followed a race at close hand from an umpire's motor launch.