The Romanian pair of Dumitru Popescu and Nicolae Taga took the lead soon after the start, with the Searles rowing level with the German pair, but their time of 1min 40sec at the 500-metre mark was just right in the conditions. They spent the next 1,000 metres concentrating on their own rhythm and form, with the cox Garry Herbert avoiding too many provocative remarks about the Romanian pair, who then led by a little over two seconds.
Over the last 500 metres the Searles raised the number of strokes to 43 per minute, and gradually closed on Popescu and Taga, who began to tie up as their hard race in the coxed pair began to be felt. The Searles' time was seven seconds faster than the other two heats, won by the Abbagnale brothers of Italy, and Poland.
The British pair are now focusing on Friday's semi-final. If there are no mishaps there they will compete on Sunday in one of the closest finals in the history of the event.
The men's coxless four raced hard in a heat with Australia, the world champions, and were competing for a qualifying place with the Netherlands with 300 metres remaining when the stroke Richard Stanhope decided to drop the power and to cruise home in fourth place, leaving the Dutch crew to race through to second place and the semi-finals.
This was the opposite of what the Searles did and explains why the Searles will probably win a medal and why the coxless four will be lucky to reach the final.
Meanwhile, the only Spanish heat winners of the day were a coxless four of lightweights including the 1984 Olympic silver medallist, Fernando Climent. The Spanish four will go straight from the Olympics to the lightweight world championships in Montreal.
Britain's men's eight finished second behind Canada in their first race, with South Africa, in their first race since returning to the Olympic fold, less than two seconds behind.
The women's eight, also recently strengthened, were sadly off the pace and after only 500 metres were nearly four seconds adrift. By the finish, the margin had increased to 20 seconds and any hope of a good place in the final was extinguished.
The men's quadruple scull found themselves in the toughest heat of the regatta and finished last. Tish Reid was fourth in her heat of the single sculls. Reid has resolutely defended her right to race in the single against the coach's wish to use her strength in one of the crew boats. She will have to find some extra pace if she is to avoid elimination before the semi-finals for the top 12.Reuse content