1984 Lightweight Reunion

The 2014 Henley Boat Races mark 30 years since the introduction of the Lightweight Women’s Boat Race. To help celebrate this milestone, the entire 1984 Lightweight crew (including spare) are to be reunited for a row past during the afternoon’s proceedings. That year’s Lightweight Captain, Kath Pocock (née Langsford), picks up the story:

At the start of the Michaelmas Term in 1983 I was asked by Nonie Ray, President of CUWBC, if I would like to help set up the first CUWBC Lightweight crew to race against Oxford. My reply was “Yes, if I am light enough!” Luckily I was. I had been in the losing Blondie crew in 1983 and I was out for revenge.

Trials took place throughout the term, and I was determined to have the crew decided before Christmas. In the days before email, Facebook and mobile phones, I posted the outing times and crew lists on the outside of my door and triallists had to come to my room to see if they had made it through to the next stage! By the end of term we had a crew plus reserves and I posted the final crew list in the window of Ryder & Amies.

During the Lent term we continued to row with our colleges and only rowed together, on the Cam, twice a week. We also had a tea party each Wednesday afternoon in the basement kitchen of Stephanie Bew’s house! I remember delicious sticky buns from Fitzbillies plus walnut cake and crumpets from Sainsbury’s. It was a great opportunity to bond as a crew.

We borrowed a white plastic boat from New Hall. However, we did have our own Macon style blades, and very special blades they were too! We wrote to numerous companies to seek sponsorship and were lucky enough to secure £1,000 from British Sugar to buy a set of blades. The stipulation of the deal was that we were to have the Silver Spoon logo painted on to the spoon of the blades. We were the first crew in the UK to have our sponsor’s logo on our equipment as the ARA had just voted to allow this. I had to phone the ARA (phone box on Queen’s Road and a bag of 10p pieces) to verify the maximum size of the logo, which I think was two inches. Two representatives from British Sugar came to my college room to discuss the deal with myself and Louise Makin. I remember offering them sugar for their tea, but they had it without! We also had Silver Spoon t-shirts and a photo shoot down by the river.

We had four excellent coaches; Roger Silk from LMBC, Hamish McCallum who rowed at Clare, Chris Harris from CULRC and Ewan Pearson from CUBC. Each coached us for two weeks and their complementary coaching methods developed us into a fine racing crew.

Our kit was not very elaborate. We had Cambridge Blue rowing vests, edged in white ribbon round the neck and we each had to sew on our own CUWBC badge. I designed our scarf which was inspired by the CULRC and Blondie scarves and was white with two Cambridge Blue and one mustard-yellow stripes. I remember going to a tailor in a small back-street workshop and getting him to make a prototype and being very excited that, for a few days, my scarf was unique, until he made eight more!

After the Lent Bumps where the crew members competed against each other, we moved to our training camp in Henley. We had a mixed build up to the race, with two outings day, some great and some less successful, and a few cases of nerves. To build ourselves up for the race we watched Chariots of Fire between outings. The line “I do this for my family, for my university and for my country” sticks in my mind!

On race day the weather was miserable; cold, wet and windy. We weighed-in and boated. Unfortunately we hit Henley Bridge on the way to the start! Not too hard, but my rigger was slightly bent and my blade was washing out a little. We had no replacement rigger, but I knew it would be alright, there was no danger of getting stuck in or catching a crab. It was very windy at the start and difficult to line up so the race started further down the course than we were meant to. Our carefully rehearsed race plan was no longer relevant as the landmarks came too soon, so we just pulled as hard as we could and were ahead of Oxford all the way. I only really believed we were going to win when we came to the island and I knew there were only ten more strokes left. My first thought when crossing the finishing line was relief, we had won! Rowing back to the start felt good.

In the evening we had a dinner with the Blue Boat, Blondie, coaches and guests in Leander. My crew presented me with an engraved Dartington rose bowl and I promised to fill it with light blue roses each March. I never have, as naturally light blue roses do exist!

I am very pleased that the Lightweight races have continued and feel very privileged to have been in the first crew. I just wish I was still a lightweight!

Following the inaugural 1984 lightweight varsity race, four of the winning Cambridge crew (Louise Makin, Stephanie Bew, Jane Fullam and Mary Phillips) formed a lightweight coxless four that won a silver medal at the National Championships and was then selected to represent GB at the 1984 FISA Championships for Lightweights in Montreal, where lightweight women’s rowing was included as a test event before being fully incorporated into the World Championships in 1985.

Crew List

BowDeanna Fernie (née Turner)
2Mary Harrison (née Phillips)
3Lynelle Bishop (née Walker-Smith)
4Jane Maher (née Fullam)
5Stephanie Bew
6Kathryn Pocock (née Langsford) Captain
7Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes (née Wilshaw)
StrokeLouise Makin
CoxAlison Fyffe
ReserveJane Pardoe (née Hendrie)