The Trial Eights

Water boiling aft for Cambridge’s Cloak.

Earlier this week both Oxford and Cambridge had their Trail Eights races on the Thames in London. HTBS’s Tim Koch was there, of course, and luckily also his friend Martin Gough, who also has had contributions published on HTBS. Here is Tim’s report:

The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race ‘Trial Eights’ took place in London on Tuesday 12 December. This event consisted of two races, Cambridge v Cambridge and Oxford v Oxford. Each race was between the last sixteen rowers and last two coxes on each side, each boat in theory ‘matched’. It was over the full Putney to Mortlake course followed by the race umpires and a flotilla of press and coaches’ launches. The Trials provide the coaches with a unique chance to see how people respond to the peculiar conditions of the long ‘Championship Course’. Measuring a man on the ergo does not tell you how he will respond when he is a length down with three miles to go, racing on a fast tide into a headwind on a river seemingly determined to swallow him. For the coxes too, the only way to show that you can steer a side by side race on the Tideway is to go out and do it.

The first Trial Eights race was staged by Oxford in 1859 and Cambridge followed in 1862. In recent years, with typical undergraduate humour, each university names their trial boats after well known pairings. This year, Cambridge had Cloak and Dagger and Oxford had Hell and High Water.

Cambridge – Cloak.
Bow: Felix Wood 2: Peter Dewhurst 3: Sam Lloyd 4: Josh Pendry 5: Joel Jennings 6: Moritz Schramm 7: Jack Lindemann Stroke: Alexander Scharp Cox: Sarah Smart

Cambridge – Dagger
Bow: Rowan Lawson 2: Phil Williams 3: Nicolas Kernick 4: Alex Ross 5: Mike Thorp 6: Niles Garratt 7: David Nelson Stroke: Stephen Dudek Cox: Ed Bosson

Oxford – Hell
Bow: Thomas Hilton 2: Chris Fairweather 3: Charlie Auer 4: Ben Snodin 5: Karl Hudspith 6: William Zeng 7: Dan Harvey Stroke: Roel Haen Cox: Oskar Zorrilla

Oxford – High Water
Bow: Julian Bubb-Humfryes 2: Geordie Macleod 3: Justin Webb 4: Hanno Wienhausen 5: Kevin Baum 6: Alexander Davidson 7: Alexander Woods Stroke: Tom Watson Cox: Zoe De Toledo

The 2012 race is wide open as Oxford, last year’s winners, has only one returning Blue (Hudspith) and Cambridge has only three men who raced last year (Jennings, Thorp, and Nelson). Also, the race is in an Olympic year so ‘Internationals’ are thin on the ground.

The press launch that I was in for the Cambridge race had engine trouble from the start with the result that, frustratingly, we were about 200 metres behind one of the best trial races for many years. Abandoning the ailing craft for the Oxford race, I positioned myself on Hammersmith Bridge – where I bumped into Ben Hunt Davis who just happened to be passing. It seems that British gold medal winning Olympians are everywhere these days!

Fortunately, the launch containing former BBC sports reporter Martin Gough was working properly and his fresh off the water summery of the races are recorded below. For those not familiar with the course, there is a map here.

Cambridge: Dagger leads Cloak near the finish.

The Cambridge race was into a pretty stiff west, south-west wind which meant that the water got very rough once through Hammersmith Bridge. It was an exciting race in which the lead changed hands three times. Cloak was on Surrey and Dagger was on Middlesex. It was fairly level until the Black Buoy when Dagger went ahead and was half a length up by Barn Elms, and a length up by the Mile Post. By Hammersmith Bridge however, Cloak had pulled back. Dagger’s cox, Ed Bosson, was aggressive in his steering and pushed the other crew over. But the opposing cox, Sarah Smart, fought back well, held her line, and there was a clash by Hammersmith Bridge from which she came out best, going a length up by St Paul’s School. However, the Dagger crew held on and as the bend moved back in their favour, they went through, drawing level at the bandstand. They were a length up at Barnes Bridge and moved away from there to perhaps a three length lead at the finish.

Unexpectedly, the Oxford race was on better water as the wind had dropped. There was some aggressive coxing from Oskar Zorrilla in Hell and Zoe De Toledo in High Water and they were fairly level until a small clash before the Mile Post when Hell went a third of a length up. The increased this to 1 ½ lengths at Hammersmith. High Water pushed repeatedly, but could not get back and Hell won by 1 ¾ lengths. Although it was a closer race than Cambridge’s, it was far less challenging with less back and forth. Cambridge will feel that they got more from their race but both squads showed that they had strength and depth. In some years you see trail eights that have decent oarsmen in the stern and some not so good in the bow but these were much more evenly matched. It’s debatable if this is a good thing – sixteen strong men do not necessarily produce eight strong men.

Oxford at Hammersmith Bridge, Hell leads High Water.

Many thanks to Martin for his informed view of the racing. You can follow his thoughts on rowing and other sports at

The 158th Boat Race is on 7th April 2012 at 2.15.

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