Spectators at this year’s Henley Boat Races were treated to a day of exciting, and at times nail-biting, racing.
Blondie started the day off with a dramatic race full of warnings, blade clashes and, unfortunately, a crab that saw them finish 3 1/2 lengths adrift. The Lightweight crew had a solid race but struggled to recover from their opponents’ fast start, and crossed the line with 1/3 length of clear water between the crews. However, a victory from the CUW Blue Boat (the first in five years) and the Lightweight men saw Cambridge win the Francombe Cup for the Victor Ludorum for the first time in eleven years.
Read on for race reports from CUW President Izzi Boanas-Evans.
Blondie had prepared for a race in which they went down off the start but held Osiris, before using superior technique and fitness to row back through and win.
This was how it turned out, with Osiris attempting unsuccessfully to ‘close the door’ on Blondie in the first 500m and receiving warnings from the umpire for blade clashing.
Nearly a length down but in clear water, Blondie were able to establish their rhythm and pushed hard to a half length overlap by the time the crews passed Upper Thames. Osiris’ early efforts started to tell and with their strokes shortening, Blondie looked set to draw level and then through Osiris in the closing stages.
Unfortunately, the crews closed again and Osiris were warned once more by the umpire. Although not clashing at the time, the strain of repeated blade clashes and rowing in rough water resulted in two girl Ellie Wigham crabbing. The time lost to recover the Blondie blade meant that Osiris had an unchallenged row to the line. This was a disappointment as the race was developing into a great contest between the two crews with a Blondie win a real possibility.
After a strong lead-up to the Henley Boat Races this year, and with a good depth of strength within the crew, the CUWBC lightweights went into the race excited with the prospect to show all those watching from the bank how fast they could be, and to see how they compared to the OUWLRC’s Blue Boat. Lightweight racing is, by nature, usually incredibly close and hard-to-predict due to the near exact matching of weight, size and strength across the crews. Well briefed and prepared to deal with whatever the race would offer, but knowing they were up against a very “together” Tethys crew, meant our girls had confidence in their ability but were aware that this was going to be the hardest race of their lives. All they needed to do was produce their best performance.
Sadly, however, not all races go exactly to plan. Despite having found a good level of increased speed in their start sequence during the week, the start the girls put in on the day didn’t quite have the edge they had been finding in the build-up to the race. OUWLRC however seemed to hit a much stronger start, and were ahead at 250m.
The CUW lightweights did settle from the shaky start into their strong rhythm, but by the time they had managed to consolidate and were hold Tethys, the dark blues had already pushed out to just clear water and had tentatively begun to steer in front of Cambridge. CUW cox Harriet Marsh did did her best to rally the girls and keep the boat out of the wash, but as Oxford were warned and moved back slightly onto station, the wash from their strokeside puddles was already disrupting the CUW bowside rowers, and the boat seemed to be drawn over the next 500m increasingly into the wash as the two crews converged onto the middle line between the two stations.
As heartbreaking as it was to watch from behind, our lightweights never let their heads drop: they continued to hold their focus and do everything they could to reverse the gap, putting in some solid pushes that appeared to start them moving back towards the dark blues. But Oxford, in front and in control of the line, were able to see these moves and did everything right to respond. The final margin was 1 1/3L, a disappointing result but a real testament to the CUW lightweights’ determination and strength that they kept the pressure up and did not allow the race to turn into a procession.
The winning margin was 1/4L but the race was a lot less close than it sounds by that margin!
The Blue Boat flew off the start, taking 2 seats within the beginning of the start sequence, and 3/4L to 1L by the end of the first minute. They continued to push out their lead to clear water past the 500m mark and then to 1 1/2L as they came past the Oxford supporters at Upper Thames. As they passed Henley Women’s boating area, Remenham Farm and the Cambridge supporters, the margin was 2L and the crew looked strong and confident in a solid rhythm. Unfortunately with 300m to go as we were applying our lifts, 2 seat Caroline Reid caught a boat stopping crab. Stern four kept their heads and continued rowing, while bow girl Sarah Moir-Porteous helped get the blade free. In this time their lead collapsed: the crews were about level and Cambridge had to build their speed from scratch back up for the line. Due to the quick thinking of their bow girl and the coolness of their cox, the Blue Boat was only stopped for 8 seconds; however, it was very close at the line — not quite a photo finish, but a definite contrast to the clear water Cambridge had had for most of the course. The official verdict was a win by just 1 second! But all that pales into insignificance because the Cambridge bow ball crossed the line first, and the light blues are back to being victorious.