19 April 2016
Here follows Courtney Landers’s second part of her diary about how she and her team mates in Pembroke College BC’s W1 prepare for May Bumps on the River Cam.
Spring rowing in Cambridge – what a pleasure. The temperature is rising above frigid, the swans are building nests and the evenings are light enough to boat. But before we get to enjoy these wonders we must first endure the trial of, well, ‘trialling’. This week PCBC’s women were battling it out for a place in the top boats and the honour of the corresponding Blazers.
Ever since I survived my novice term and was immersed in the culture of the boat club, I have craved the chance to row in the first boat for May Bumps. This goal has taken corporeal form in the beautiful white women’s Blazers with white and blue striped trim. Pembroke’s particular tradition is to award the privilege of wearing Blazers only to those rowing in top boats for May Bumps. In the past, this meant only W1 and M1, but in recognition of how well the second boats have been doing the past few years, this year W2 and M2 crews will be sporting their own Blazers too. These new Blazers will lack only the trimming of the originals, emphasising that the top two boats work best when they work as a squad.
Competition for the top boats is always fierce, and this year even more so. Several girls were returning from study terms or town boats, and they were joined by a raft of eager lower boats’ women in their attempt to oust the current members of W1 and W2 from their seats.
The first step in this process is always a 2k test. The women’s side takes the proverb ‘never do a 2k by yourself’ very seriously. Test day has actually become my favourite part of pre-term trialling, because for a few hours the boathouse is filled with endorphins, snacks, loud music and even louder rowers yelling themselves hoarse encouraging each other towards a PB. Some girls are utterly unfazed by a 2k, jumping right in after a quick warm up and then speeding off to the library. Others, like myself, have an almost superstitious attachment to their testing routine.
2k results themselves are near-sacred; suffice to say that this week multiple PBs were had, limits were broken, and bonds were formed.
The day after our 2k tests, everyone trialling for W1 and W2 were sent down to the boathouse to be fitted for Blazers, should they not already have one from rowing W1 previously. Local business A.E. Clothier has been providing Blazers to boat clubs and other sporting institutions in Cambridge and beyond since the 1940s. Until recently, they had a storefront on Pembroke Street, directly across from the college, but after the death of owner Bryan Layton in December, they have moved online.
Fortunately for us, they are still doing fittings in person. The process mostly involves trying on a number of different sizes until the closest fit is found; measurements are only made should any changes to body or sleeve length be needed. In my case it turns out a men’s size is required, though a ‘ladies fit’ will be applied through the waist. I’m yet to decide whether I want Pembroke buttons or which of five different fabrics I would prefer, but I have time – nothing will actually be ordered until crew lists are published.
It was this afternoon that the rain settled in and it did not leave until after our last outing for the week. Although seat racing turned out to be unnecessary, we still needed to have several trial outings in eights, mostly to determine optimal seating positions and pair partners. So we got wet. There’s nothing like taking the boat to heads after rowing through patches of river where rain has caused sewers to overflow. Plus nothing causes blisters like wet blade handles. In spite of these conditions though, the boat feel, ratio and connection all improved immensely over three days. Probably the greatest improvement came after Mike Furness, friend of our boatman Kev and coach at Emmanuel, put us through our paces with a power build warm-up to our second castling piece of the day.
To end this week’s post, I thought I’d introduce in greater detail someone I mentioned last week: our Captain, James Roberts. James joined PCBC the same year I did, beginning as a rower but transitioning to cox at the beginning of his first Lent, after which he was swiftly nabbed by W1 where he has remained ever since. He was voted into the role of women’s side captain at the end of last year, and though he is indeed cis-male, we have taken to calling him one of Queen, Queenie, Queen Phoenix or Queenix (the Phoenix reference is a convoluted story involving unicorns and cake). He does an incredible job, pouring huge amounts of energy and passion into the task of herding us all towards glory. This week he’s been the busiest of all of us, organising testing, providing bucketloads of encouragement, and making the difficult decisions required.
Next week in addition to explaining how Bumps actually works I’ll introduce you to our newly-crowned stroke and examine one of the main challenges of rowing at Cambridge – balancing it with the demands of academia.