ROWING: A summery Henley hosted the women's races and the men's lightweights in a highly-competitive day of racing.
The Cambridge Lightweight men and Openweight women reversed last year’s results to beat Oxford at the Henley Boat Races.
The women’s reserve boat and women’s lightweight boat missed out as each university took three wins from the day. Four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent was on hand to umpire the races as fans from both universities basked in unseasonally glorious sunshine.
In the Newton Women’s Boat Race, Cambridge were looking for their first win since 2007. A crew stacked with returning Blues started like a crew with confidence, pulling ahead immediately off the start and rating at 36 for the race. They opened up a comfortable gap of a length and a half when, with 500m to go, the 2-seat’s gate popped open to stop the boat (though some spectators think this was simply an overhead crab). Fortunately for Cambridge, they managed to recover and restart just before Oxford drew level, producing a nail-biting finish. They held on to win by a quarter of a length; the Cambridge crew deservedly ecstatic about their victory.
The Cambridge women drew ahead before catching a crab
In previous years the men’s lightweight crews had produced excellent, high-quality races with margins as small as two feet. A last-minute crew change in the Cambridge boat saw Nick Kernick, a CUBC spare, move into the stroke seat while Charles Pitt-Ford had returned to CULRC at Christmas after initially also trialling for CUBC. The Light Blues started fast and rated significantly higher than Oxford, carving out an early lead of about a third of the length. In another excellent race, the lightweights extended this lead to three quarters of a length by the finish, although credit must go to a strong Oxford crew who pushed them all the way.
The lightweights held off Oxford to the end
The lightweight women’s crews also produced a race of outstanding quality. Unfortunately, Oxford came away victorious this year after taking an early lead and extending this to nearly a length by halfway. They just about gained clear water with some distance left to go, as the Cambridge cox switched to the other station behind the Oxford crew. The Dark Blues held off a strong Cambridge finish to record a time nine seconds faster than the Osiris boat.
Early Oxford advances in the women’s lightweight race
The Blondie/Osiris race between the women’s reserve crews saw drama unfold yet again. Blondie were half a length down at halfway when, like last year, a blade clash was followed by an unfortunate overhead crab in the Cambridge crew. This forced them to stop and restart and allowed Osiris to pull out a clear-water margin. Blondie appealed because Osiris had received a warning from umpire Pinsent, but that had come some time before the clash occurred; the appeal was denied and Osiris were declared winners by 3.5 lengths.
The intercollegiate competitions kicked the day off, although Emma women lost to Pembroke Oxford by a considerable margin over a shortened course. Caius men provided the first upset of the day by narrowly defeating Pembroke Oxford. Their boat had done extremely well at the Head of the River Race in London the previous week, placing 42nd and just a few seconds off the Cambridge Lightweight boat. Nevertheless, Caius pipped them off the start and held on valiantly to take a third of a length victory. Caius raced with their formerly injured strokeman from last Mays and their CUBC spare which may have added some speed, but this is undoubtedly an excellent performance by them.
With wins for the women’s open and men’s lightweight Blue Boats, Cambridge also took the Francombe Cup, for the most successful University. The crews will be spending their evening commiserating and celebrating in various locations in Henley before attention shifts to The Boat Race on Saturday 7th April. Have you got your stash yet?
The Women collecting their trophy
The Lightweight men beginning the celebrations
Photographs by Sonali Campion and David Ponting