The Other Boat Races

Pic 1. Author Malcolm Knight in his umpire’s role.
Author Malcolm Knight in his umpire’s role.

15 April 2016

To complete the information overload about this year’s Boat Races, here is a report from our old friend, Malcolm Knight. The pictures were taken by Malcolm over the last few years (though none from this year as he was stationed at Mortlake as the finish judge).

A few years ago, thanks to the support of the then Chairman of The Boat Race, Howard Jacobs, the Thames Traditional Rowing Association was given permission to run races before the main events. These are between the Watermen’s Cutters owned and rowed by a few of the City of London Livery Companies, The City Corporation, the Port of London Authority and some enthusiastic clubs. The boats are in full livery with their tilts (canopies) rowed by four oarsmen or women carrying a cox and, as is traditional, a passenger. In addition, London Youth Rowing enter the two 1829 replica Boat Race VIIIs (‘The Oxbridge Cutters’) which were commissioned by The Boat Race Company Ltd in 2004 to celebrate the 150th Boat Race.

Pic 2. Rowing to the start at Hammersmith Bridge from Chiswick in 2013.
Rowing to the start at Hammersmith Bridge from Chiswick in 2013.

The course is from Hammersmith Bridge to the finish line of The Boat Race, a distance of 2.5 miles. The starts are six abreast for the cutters in two divisions – Ladies and Mixed crews followed by the Men and lastly, the two 1829 Cutters.

Pic 3. The ‘Oxbridge Giggs’ or ‘1829 Cutters’ in 2013. Although they are in action on behalf of London Youth Rowing, the crews are mostly veterans (‘masters’) with a rowing or skiffing background.
The ‘Oxbridge Gigs’ or ‘1829 Cutters’ in 2013. Although they are in action on behalf of London Youth Rowing, the crews are mostly veterans (‘masters’) with a rowing or skiffing background.

The bank side revellers of Barnes, Chiswick and Hammersmith are treated to row past as the boats leave University of London Boat House above Chiswick Bridge to row down to the start – the crowds sometimes manage a cheer but the TV cameras are always looking the other way!

There’s no luxury of stake boats so the start can be a little like the start of the Grand National – six boats being called up, jockeying for position and when considered straight, the Race Starter he gives the usual call of ‘Get ready to race…. Go!’

Pic 4. The start of the Women’s Race.
The start of the Women’s Race.

The next division move in to position and are set off about 5 minutes later closely followed by the 1829 race replicas – a wonderful spectacle of a mass start of total amateur crews with cox’s jostling for position and as usual trying to get the best line up the course.

Pic 5. 2014 – The contest between the 1829 Cutters follows the Watermen’s Cutters Race for men.
2014 – The contest between the 1829 Cutters follows the Watermen’s Cutters Race for men.

The crews are left to their own device, which leads to some interesting events – clashes and rather aggressive coxing – as these amateur crews race with as much dedication as the University crews will an hour later. There’s no umpire just a safety boat with the express instruction should a boat get in to difficulties they must be taken in tow and clear of The Boat Race course. Waiting for the boats at the finish line are more volunteers who have the thankless task of identifying the boats and crew coming towards them battling it out to the very end.

Pic 6. At Hammersmith Bridge, the start of the 2015 race between the reproductions of the boats used in the first Oxford - Cambridge Boat Race in 1829.
At Hammersmith Bridge, the start of the 2015 race between the reproductions of the boats used in the first Oxford – Cambridge Boat Race in 1829.

 

Pic 7. The 2015 Race passing Auriol Kensington Rowing Club at Hammersmith.
The 2015 Race passing Auriol Kensington Rowing Club at Hammersmith.

 

Pic 8. Both crews came close together approaching Chiswick Eyot.
Both crews came close together approaching Chiswick Eyot.

 

Pic 9. The ‘Oxford Boat’.
The ‘Oxford Boat’.

 

Pic 10. The ‘Cambridge Boat’.
The ‘Cambridge Boat’.

 

Pic 11. The crews were level approaching Barnes Bridge.
The crews were level approaching Barnes Bridge.

 

Pic 12. ‘Oxford’ won – but ‘Cambridge’ did not look too unhappy.
‘Oxford’ won – but ‘Cambridge’ did not look too unhappy.

This year, ten boats from various Livery Companies, the PLA and clubs managed to press gang crews to give up their Easter weekend. The races were keenly contested over the still ebbing tide – a tough pull upstream!

The winners, The Scientific Instrument Makers, came across the line in 30 minutes 42 seconds, The Port of London Authority Ladies won in a time of 39 minutes and 58 seconds.

Having crossed the line, the crews rowed back to the University of London Boathouse at Chiswick, beached the boats (which will be towed back to their home moorings later in the day) and retired to have bacon butties, some liquid refreshment and watch The Boat Race on TV.

Pic 13. At the finish, 2014.
At the finish, 2014.

They race for a simple medal, the overall winners being awarded the Tallow Chandlers Oxbridge Challenge Trophy, all very reminiscent of the traditional events we all love so much.

This is a wonderful example of the origins of our modern day rowing pedigree – novices in fixed seat, fixed pin/rowlock, sweep-oar boats competing over the hallowed waters of The Boat Race on the same day as the main event for little or no recognition of their efforts. Maybe the TV companies could show a few moments of this race during their coverage rather than interviewing people who know nothing about our marvellous sport….

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