1973 Goldie crew reunites for their 50th anniversary

Representatives of the victorious 1973 Goldie crew and their partners gathered for a reunion dinner in Cambridge (courtesy Christ’s College) on 4 April 2023. This was preceded by lunch at the Fort St George and followed the next day with a visit to the Ely Boathouse and a trip by river to The Cutter Inn past the former CUBC accommodation at King’s Ely Boathouse remembering past glories.

1973’s Goldie crew racing to victory

Though appearances had changed over 50 years, all were quickly reconnected by common memories and unchanged characters. Hugh McGarel-Groves got together 5 other members of the crew (self-appointed captain, the larger than life Robert Breare having sadly died in 2013) from as far afield as Greece (John Belousis) and Hong Kong (Henry Wheare).

The crew before[1] and after[2]

Fuelled by copious courses and fine wines, the party recalled its exploits on and off the river, hair-rising drives from Cambridge to Leander and London along the old A10 and at 100 mph along Park Lane on the way to the Boat Race Dinner in Rob Breare’s E-type Jaguar, a weekend break at the Blakeney Hotel, courtesy of the same individual’s family connections, John Belousis and his dog in the bows, and not least sinking in training and reviving the cox with rum and a hot bath.

During the race, a certain history was made and repeated exactly 50 years later by the 2023 Men’s Cambridge cox seeking sheltered but slower paced water beside the Fulham football ground wall. At the time Henry Wheare took the controversial decision in gale force conditions (criticised by some pundits) to hug the Fulham wall and seek calmer conditions over the Fulham flats, while the Oxford Isis crew kept its course far away on the opposite side of the river.   The move paid off as, despite the slower stream, by the time the crews rejoined their stations at Hammersmith Bridge Goldie were several lengths ahead, going on to win by 5 lengths.

Having sunk in training the crew were conscious of the real risk of sinking during the race.  As they hit the bad water, stroke Neil Christie cried out “get us out of here” and it was instinctive to go for the shelter of the wall.   After the race, despite its success, the cox was for evermore branded, as if in a Bateman cartoon, as the cox that – shock horror – dared to steer over the Fulham flats.  That this was then regarded as heretical is intriguing and indicative of a whole different attitude.  Under the hide bound but rather amateurish ethics of the day, anyone out of step could be treated with suspicion.  The CUBC is now one club run by professionals, not amateurs. and winning the race is more correctly appreciated.  Then, the BBC Boat Race commentator, Desmond Hill, was famously relieved of his position after uttering a minor swear.  Today, such demonstrations of free speech are more acceptable, though coxes are still expected to apologise for “blue” language when their words of encouragement are broadcast.

After all these years it is satisfying that the Goldie cox’s tactic has been rightly recognised in the 2023 race as  “risky but inspired” and “coxing genius” and his trail blazing decision has at long last been duly vindicated.

Henry Wheare (left) recalling the race with Hugh McGarel-Groves and David Sprague over a cup of coffee on a tour of the Ely Boathouse.  A far cry from the primitive changing hut previously used by the Cambridge crews at the King’s School Ely boathouse.

John Belousis, Mr. and Mrs. McGarel-Groves and Henry Wheare enjoying a stroll around Ely Cathedral, less arduous than in the days of Ely training.

[1] From L to R: David Sprague (7), Chris Langridge (Bow), John Belousis (3), Mike Harris (4), Robert Breare (6), Jamie McLeod (2), Neil Christie (Str), Hugh McGarel-Groves (5 Henry Wheare (Cox); Coaches (at rear): Donald Leggett, James Crowden, Chis Rodrigues, David Cruttenden, Graeme Hall, Robin Winckless, Mike Sweeney 

[2] From L to R: David Sprague and partner, John Belousis, Hugh McGarel-Groves and partner, Chris Langridge and partner, Mike Harris (with partner to left), Henry Wheare and partner