Rowing Lingo

Don’t know your Blue from your Blondie? Confused by the catch and the crab?

This year’s Oxford Cambridge Boat Race is rapidly approaching and if you’re a fan you’re likely to hear a whole raft of terminology as you watch the action unfold. For those of you who don’t speak the language, read on.

8s, 4s and pairs: indicates the number of rowers in a boat. Where you see 8+ or 8- for example, the + indicates a cox in the boat, whereas a – indicates a coxless boat. There is always a cox in each boat in the Boat Race. 

Blade: the rowing name for an oar which is made up of the handle, the longest section of the blade called the loom and the spoon, which  is the part that enters the water and propels the boat.

Blondie: the name for the Cambridge women’s reserve crew who race over the same course the same day as  the main event.

Blue: the University colours awarded to those who take part in the Boat Race. Oxford’s are dark blue, Cambridge’s are light blue.

Blue Boat: Cambridge men’s and women’s first boat

Bow: either the front end of the boat or the oarsman who sits nearest that end.

Catch: the perceived start of the stroke, when the oars enter the water and the rowers start to push with their legs. ‘Sharp’ catches are when the oars disappear fast and simultaneously below the water.

Championship Course: is the course the Boat Race takes and is 6.8 km long and stretches between Putney and Mortlake on the River Thames in south west London.

Coxswain (cox): steersman (or woman)  of the crew, who also coaches within the boat, motivates the athletes, and calls for pushes. Coxswains may be men or women, regardless of the boat they are in.

Chiswick Steps: the line of steps opposite Chiswick Wharf which mark one of the mid-race timing points, just upstream of Chiswick Eyot, the midstream island.

Crab: when an oar gets stuck in the water and the rower loses control of the handle.

Crew: what we call the team of rowers.

Clashing: the contact between oars/blades which slows both boats, and can lead to a disqualification if one crew is in the wrong place.

CUBC: Cambridge University Boat Club, which puts forward the crews for the annual Boat Race and Lightweight Boat Races against Oxford on the Thames tideway. On 1 August 2020, the three separate rowing clubs of the university – Cambridge University Boat Club, Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, and Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club – became one new club for all men and women, openweight and lightweight, who represent Cambridge and race against Oxford.

CUCBC: Cambridge University Combined Boat Clubs – as well as organising the Lent and May Bumps, CUCBC also regulates student clubs’ use of the River Cam.

Drive: the stroke phase when the rowers’ legs are pushing and the oars are being propelled through the water.

Engine room: the oarsmen in the middle of the crew, traditionally the strongest rowers.

Erg: short for ergometer, which is a rowing machine.

Extraction: part of the stroke when the blade is lifted out of the water.

Finish: in terms of the stroke, the point where the oars pulled back, clear of the water. A crew’s strokes must finish together (a ‘clean’ finish) or the boat is slowed down

Foul: in the Boat Race, a clash or interference of one crew by the other, which materially affects the outcome of the race. 

Fulham Wall: the wall along the northern embankment at the start of the Boat Race. 

Goldie: the Cambridge men’s reserve crew, named after legendary four-times Cambridge stroke John Haviland Dashwood Goldie (Blue 1869-72).

Isis: the Oxford men’s reserve crew, named after the river Thames as it passes through Oxford.

LBC: lower boats captain. A senior college  rower who is responsible for teaching college novices and organising their training schedule.

Lighting down: the earliest time college rowers are allowed to be on the river Cam. 

Lighting up: the latest time rowers are allowed to be on the river Cam. 

Lightweight (Lwt): a rower under approximately 70kg (men)  or 59kg (women) who is entitled to compete in competitions for light rowers – either Lightweight Men (LwtM) or Lightweight Women (LwtW).

Long Reach: The longest straight(ish) section of the River Cam, between the Railway Bridge and Ditton Corner.

Middlesex: the northern side or ‘station’ on the river – favoured during the start and finish of the race.

Milepost: the large obelisk marking one mile from the start of the Boat Race, beside the Barn Elms water works and reservoir, commemorating legendary Cambridge oarsman Steve Fairbairn.

Openweight (OW): a rower of any weight who is entitled to compete in openweight races but not Lightweight races.

Osiris: the Oxford women’s reserve crew, named after the brother of the goddess Isis.

Push: the short-term lift in rate and effort which may allow one crew to move past the other. Coxes often ‘kill the push’, by calling one of their own just as the other crew’s lift comes to an end. Even in a 4.25 mile race, crews only have enough energy to push a few times.

Rate/Stroke rate: number of strokes taken per minute. The starting rates are usually slightly higher in a race before they settle to a race pace.

Ratio: literally, the ratio of recovery to drive. A good ratio has more time on the recovery.

Recovery: part of the stroke when the oars are out of the water and the oarsmen compress their legs.

Rudder: a small piece of metal (or indeed carbon)  under the stern of the boat, attached to strings so the cox can steer.

Spare: a reserve member of the crew

Spoon: the painted end of the oar (spoon is synonymous) which dips in the water.

Stakeboat: the moored boats from which the crews start.

Stern: the back end of the boat, where the cox sits.

Stream: the incoming Boat Race tide is fastest at the point of deepest water, which may not be in the middle of the river. This area is the stream, and is around 2.5 crew-widths wide (about 20 metres).

Stride: the change in rhythm which often comes around 15-25 strokes, at which point the crew settles into its base racing rate.

Stroke: either the action of rowing or the sternmost rower, who sets the rhythm and determines race tactics for the whole crew.

Surrey: the southern side or ‘station’ on the river. The “Surrey bend” favours its crew for most of the middle of the race.

University Post: the large post marking the finish line.

University Stone: a 2.5-foot high stone on the Putney Embankment behind an orange-painted fence post, marking the start line.