1973 Men's Blue Boat with the 2023 Blue Boat and Goldie crews

The crews of 1973 enjoy their 50th anniversary reunions and reflect on the victories of the past

1973 was an outstanding year for both the men and the women. It saw the 6th consecutive victory for the Men’s Blue Boat. Then President Chris Baillieu, who later won Silver at the 1976 Olympics, is still Cambridge’s most successful Blue with 4 wins from 4 races and is a long-term Boat Race commentator. He was partnered at Montreal by Mike Hart who stroked the 1973 Men’s Blue Boat. The 1973 crew joined the 2023 crew on the Tideway this year to watch them train and offer words of encouragement ahead of the Race on 26 March.

The 1973 Men’s Blue Boat

Steve Tourek was in the Blue Boat in 1973 and said at the time:

“One reason Cambridge are so superior right now [6th consecutive victory, this one by 48 seconds and the second largest margin of victory through 119 races] is their coaches, not only for their coaching ability but their all around qualities as men. They are the finest people I have ever known and they instilled their character into the crew. I was proud to row with this crew. I never doubted any one of them at any point.”

50 years later he says:

“I’ve been back 5 times since and every time I see my mates, the years apart vanish and it’s as if we were in the boat together on the Tideway. We shared a remarkable experience that challenged us physically and spiritually. We overcame illness, injury, a press determined to see Oxford victorious and a sinking headwind on the day. Winning was glorious and perhaps the biggest strength of our crew was its toughness and resilience.

In the end, it was the experience of a lifetime and I’m still re-discovering lessons first learned  as a Blue in the 7 seat in 1973. And I love these guys which makes those lessons even more meaningful.”

For Goldie, 1973 was the 7th consecutive victory. 5 man Hugh McGarel-Groves is the father of Alex McGarel-Groves who rowed in the 5 seat of the Blue Boat in 2003, also a reunion crew for this year. They will have their reunion in Cambridge over 4-5 April this year, including a dinner at Christ’s College and a visit to the CUBC Ely boathouse.

After watching Jasper Parish cox the 2023 Blue Boat last month, cox Henry Wheare shared:

“In a remarkable coincidence exactly 50 years ago, as cox of the 1973 Goldie crew, I took the controversial decision, highly criticised at the time by the pundits and the Cambridge boatman, to hug the Fulham wall in gale force conditions while the Oxford Isis crew kept its course far away on the opposite side of the river. The move likewise paid off as, despite the slower stream, by the time the crews rejoined their stations at Hammersmith Bridge we were not only afloat but several lengths ahead, going on to win by over 5 lengths.

It was significant that our crew had sunk in training and were conscious of the real risk of sinking during the race. As we hit the bad water, our stroke Neil Christie cried out ‘get us out of here’ so it was instinctive to go for the shelter of the wall. After the race, despite our success, I 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 you can imagine my satisfaction that this ‘risky but inspired’ tactic has been rightly recognised as ‘coxing genius’ and that my trail blazing decision has at long last been duly vindicated.”

1973 saw the 11th consecutive victory for the Women’s Blue Boat. It was only the second crew to be awarded Blues since 1941, although they were only awarded a half blue in 1973 and were only awarded full Blues the following year. 1973 was also significant because it was the last year in which the crew was selected from only Newnham (6) New Hall (1) and Girton (2) . In 1972 Clare, Churchill and Kings opened for women and this is  reflected in the  1974 crew.

The 1973 Women’s Blue Boat with the 2023 crew c Row360

Sue Fenton (nee Wrenn) was in the Women’s Blue Boat that year and remembers a very different experience to that of today’s crews. 

Sue recalls that the President Vicky Markham (now Singh) knew many people in Cambridge and always managed to magic up a good coach and press contacts. She instigated training at Fenners and spent a Long Vacation researching ‘Boats for Women’, a history of women’s rowing. The race in 1973 was on the Cam, with alternating years on the Isis. The women rowed in borrowed boats if the race was away and cadged lifts in cars to the fixture on the day.

The 1973 Women’s Blue Boat

Sue says:

“I remember cycling down to the Trinity boathouse, where we changed in the bicycle sheds. Later, we were allowed into the store room up the stairs to change and use the loo. One of our two eights, ‘Persephone’, was a wooden, clinker-built, very heavy, pass-me-down from the mens’ colleges. ‘Marguerite’ was a restricted shell, also pre-loved. From 1971-74, when I was rowing, we had no sponsorship, no new equipment and no support staff. 

After our win in 1973, we celebrated with champagne in beer tankards whilst still wearing our kit outside the boathouse. However, there was only a cup of tea for the competing crews afterwards!”

On 22 March, boating in a launch behind the crews practising on the Tideway, the women’s crew of 1973 reunited on the historic launch Amaryllis before sitting down for a reunion lunch. 

Sue concludes:

“I have never been back to any reunions so this 50th crew reunion will be very special for me; I rarely venture south of the border and have met only two of the crew again, some time ago, in the intervening years.” 

After a 40 year break, Sue is now rowing skiffs in Argyll and says  the physical and mental benefits gained from being in a mixed crew is vitally important to her wellbeing. 

Sally Visick (Newnham 1972), CUWBC 1973 and 1975, writes:

“Some of us had not met since our student days, a few had remained more closely in touch and only two (for travel and family reasons) were unable to join us.

CUBC personnel welcomed us warmly, then in warm sunshine we boarded Amaryllis. What a difference 50 years makes in terms of training and technology: a carbon fibre shell with aerodynamic wing riggers and sophisticated telemetry feeding back via a small screen on the stretcher of each athlete; women who have the fitness, skill, physical and mental resilience to row over 4.2 miles and a squad with equal access to top class facilities, coaching and technical support. It’s a far cry from rowing on the Cam in 1973 (races were held alternate years on the Isis): the distance was 1200 metres up the Long Reach, the longest straight section where side by side racing was possible; the changing room was a ‘cupboard’ in First and Third which we shared with the beer barrels and confectionery supplies (post outing Mars bars were readily available); and while we may have done some running (none of us could quite remember), there was no weight-training that year – it came later. Our coaches were students: David Maxwell (Jesus) who went on to win World and Olympic silver medals with the GB VIII and Graham Zanker (Gonville and Caius). Graham, who acted as umpire and timekeeper for our race, recalls being pestered for our time by Philip Howard of The Times while Oxford had yet to finish.

But some things don’t change: the love of the sport, the escape that is being on the water (some of us still row), the camaraderie and relationships that are developed when you train as a group and that wonderful feeling when everything comes together – eight people rowing as a perfect unit and the boat running like a dream. It may not last very long or happen very often, but it is nonetheless unforgettable.”

After the 1973 Boat Race, Cambridge Evening News photo

Left to right: Caroline Fletcher [Clarke], Jane Kingsbury, Vicky Markham [Singh], Laura Smith [Nottingham], Elizabeth Smith [Rounce] (partially obscured, Sally Visick, Catti Moss (Sue Wrenn [Fenton] and Sue Clarke [Westmacott] out of shot!)