10 May 2016
Here follows Courtney Landers’s fifth 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.
I’d like to start this week by apologising to Clare College Boat Club for consistently confusing them with Clare Hall Boat Club. My only excuse is that both clubs boat from the same boat house and have predominantly yellow blades. One of our main coaches on the women’s side is also named Clare Hall, which leads to no end of confusing conversations.
PCBC W1 had an incredibly exciting but completely exhausting weekend which I’ll go into detail about next week. For now, allow me to give you a tour of Pembroke’s boat house.
Most of the college and town boathouses sit across the river from Midsummer Common, a lovely stretch of grass that hosts festivals, carnivals, half marathons and grazing cattle at various points in the year. Ours is at the eastern end of the common right next to the Cutter Ferry Footbridge, sitting between those of Clare College Boat Club (sorry again, guys) and Emmanuel Boat Club. It’s easily recognisable due to the distinctive ‘Pembroke Blue’ colour of the boat bay doors.
The interior of the boathouse is also painted in blue and cream. Windows along the river side provide plenty of natural light and let in the breeze in summer, and in winter a large boiler in the ‘drying room’ keeps us all toasty warm and ensures we have hot showers. In addition to separate men’s and women’s changing rooms and shower facilities, we have an erg room large enough to comfortably fit eight ergs and a suitably loud sound system.
The women’s room is basic but cosy; lined with benches and hooks for storing bags and coats, and with enough floor space for an entire crew to stretch out or do core exercises. The cream walls are adorned with photos of previous first boat crews, whose names are listed above in gold. A sharp-eyed observer will note that crew lists only go back as far as 1985; Pembroke College only accepted women students from 1984. We first took the headship of Mays in 1997 and have held it six times since then, but though we came close in 2011 we are yet to hold the headship of Lents.
The boat club itself was founded in 1827, and the men’s room is filled with memorabilia reflecting this long history. In addition to all the painted crew lists, there are photos of crews winning at Henley, painted blades dating back as far as 1892 and blazers donated by past members.
My favourite piece of history hangs above the bench where we store our coxboxes. At first glance it just looks like a very faded pennant, but if the typewritten label is to be believed it is actually ‘a banner given to the PCBC Coxless Four as a memento of their participation in the Third International Friendly Youth Games in Moscow 1957’, and this ‘is thought to be the first British crew to have visited Russia since the Revolution’. Nothing can be read anymore except for a small curl of Cyrillic in the upper left corner, but apparently the front used to read ‘From the Sportsmen of Spartak Club U.S.S.R’, and the back ‘To the English Oarsmen, Moscow, August 1957’. It appears Pembroke came a respectable third.
Downstairs we have two boat bays; our eights are stored in the largest along with a few sculls, while our blades and fours, plus a pair, are kept on one side of the smaller bay. Darwin College Boat Club also boat from our boathouse, and they use one half of the smaller bay for their eights, and store their blades on the back wall.
Adjoining the two boat bays is the workshop of our boatman, Kevin ‘Kev’ Bowles. Kev has been boatman for about 30 years, long enough for photos of him with various crews to document the gradual disappearance of his hair. Alongside keeping our boats in top shape, Kev is head coach for the women’s side, and though we sometimes tease him for his energetic demonstrations of the perfect stroke, we’d be nowhere without him. He’s also reportedly an excellent sculling coach, but no-one in recent memory has convinced him to put up with their steering.
Kev is the main bank-party for crews during bumps, meaning he meets each crew at the marshalling zone, accompanies them to the lock to give them final encouragements, and then pushes them out into the stream with a boat hook before the final cannon. His most important (and cherished) role as bank-party is to cycle alongside the crew during the race, signalling how far they are from the boat they’re chasing using a pre-determined set of whistles; one whistle for a length, two for half a length, three for a canvas. Every crew bearing down upon their competition with lungs burning and limbs going numb craves the signal that they have overlap on the boat ahead – the continuous ringing of a very large bell.