Cambridge v. Harvard 1906, Part 2

Here follows the second and final part of “Cambridge v. Harvard 1906”.

At Bourne End on 6 August, 1906, both Cambridge and Harvard began their practice for the big race on the Thames on 8 September. On 23 August both crews moved to Putney. The first time Harvard rowed the full course, on 1 September, they finished almost on record time, 18 minutes, 50 seconds, which was only 5 seconds longer than Oxford’s record time in 1893. Harvard’s old coach and great rowing advocate, Robert ‘Bob’ F. Herrick, arrived to England some weeks after the crew had reached England. In his book Red Top – Reminiscences of Harvard Rowing (1948), Herrick’s writes: “The English opinion was on the whole rather favorable to the Harvard crew, but on the other hand Americans who had seen them for some little time were not at all confident”.

Although, one would think that Herrick, as an old rowing coach, would have had some judgment of which boat would win, but instead he writes, “I saw them [Harvard] go out and also saw the Cambridge crew go out each day until the race. It was difficult for me to form any opinion of the two crews. There were, of course, the general marked differences between an English crew and an American crew, but this made it all the harder to form any opinion.”

On 8 September, at 4:30 p.m., the race started. Rudy Lehmann, who was the race umpire, states in his The Complete Oarsman, “It was a brilliant unclouded day. There was a slight breeze from the west, but scarcely sufficient to ruffle the surface of the water, except in Corney Reach and near the finish. The flood tide was not a very strong one, and as the wind was almost always on the quarter it was not possible to anticipate that record time would be accomplished.” Bob Herrick followed the race from the referee’s boat, “All along the course were tens of thousands of spectators who sat on the banks and the housetops,” he wrote.

Cambridge started at a rate of 40 strokes to the minute, and Harvard at a much lesser rate. At the mile, the Americans were two and a half lengths behind, and Herrick claims that Harvard was beaten there and then. At Hammersmith Bridge, the light blues were four lengths ahead, and although Harvard put in a spurt now and then, which reduced Cambridge lead, the Englishmen’s victory was never in jeopardy. Cambridge paddled passed the finish line at 19 minutes 58 seconds.

A view from Barnes Bridge, Cambridge in a comfortable lead over Harvard.

“This day will always be considered by Cambridge oarsmen as one of the really great dates in their calendar,” Lehmann writes in The Complete Oarsman. He continues, “The race rowed on that occasion between our crew and a crew representative of Harvard University was, no doubt, a brilliant triumph for our English rowing men, and for the sound and ancient traditions on which their teaching had been based; but it was something more than that; it was a splendid culminating point of a genuine sporting event in which from first to last there had been neither hitch nor jar. Friendship there was and courtesy and chivalry, but of the animosity which has sometimes embittered and disfigured such contests there was never even the faintest trace.”

If Lehmann’s approach to the race and its result can be viewed very British, so might Bob Herrick’s view seem very American. In Red Top, he writes, “After the race there was a dinner at Prince’s restaurant in London, which I remember as about the dullest occasion I ever was present at. I have no doubt the depression caused by our defeat explains my feelings somewhat, but I still believe the dinner was a much duller affair than it would have been possible to have in [America]. The crew were all delighted with their treatment by the English and all enjoyed the trip very much, thought they found it very difficult to be reconciled to defeat.”

Harvard would get their revenge. In 1914 at Henley, Harvard took the Grand Challenge Cup. But that is another story…

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