The Cambridge Women’s Trial Eights: Expecto Patronum Conjures Up A Magic Push
8 December 2017
Tim Koch follows the Tabs on Trial.
Like the sound of the first cuckoo heralding the arrival of spring, to most of us the first indication that Boat Race Day is approaching is the occurrence of the Trial Eights Races held over the Putney to Mortlake course sometime in December. These are not contests of Light Blue v Dark Blue, they are intra-university races for the men’s and women’s crews, Oxford racing Oxford and Cambridge racing Cambridge. Here, the last 16 rowers and last two coxswains who are candidates for each of the men’s and women’s Blue Boats battle it out, usually in theoretically matched crews, all hoping to impress the coach who has to make the final selection.
Side-by-side, one-on-one racing for 4 1/4 miles on the Thames Tideway in December can be a very testing experience – and it is exactly for this reason that the ‘Trial Eights’ are usually held at this time. While the contenders for the Blue Boats are thoroughly tested in the gym, on the ergo, and on the water at Ely for Cambridge and at Wallingford for Oxford, it is only on the Thames Tideway itself that the coaches can see what their rowers and coxswains are really made of, how they cope with nerves and mistakes and also how they react to whatever the most famous and possibly the most unpredictable rowing course in the world throws at them. Old Father Thames may have been playing host to rowing crews for hundreds of years – but he can still take them by surprise.
As usual, an inability to take photographs and make notes at the same time means that I have interspersed the excellent race reports on the official race website with my own pictures.
After triumphing in last year’s Boat Race, Cambridge women’s coach, Rob Baker, has been determined not to allow the momentum from a successful campaign to dwindle. Both of his Trial Eight crews were strong, packed full of experience and talent, despite the notable omission of President Daphne Martschenko through illness… Expecto Patronum won the toss and choose the Surrey station.
Off the start, Leviosa were slightly quicker to reach the end of the Putney Embankment… Keen to exploit their early bend advantage, Leviosa moved out to half a length passing Craven Cottage. Umpire Sir Matthew Pinsent repeatedly warning them as they made full and frank use of their station.
The crews again converged passing Harrods Depository, Patronum showed the strength of their character to keep Leviosa in check before responding with a powerful push at Hammersmith Bridge.
The composure of Patronum was evident as they drew longer and sat taller in choppier conditions passing St Paul’s School Boathouse, although they did incur the consistent wrath of Pinsent by continually slewing across the indistinguishable line that separates the two stations.
Patronum continued to draw away from Leviosa, establishing a clear-water advantage by Chiswick Eyot and pushing further ahead passing the Bandstand.
Passing underneath Barnes Bridge, the lead became irreversible as Patronum controlled proceedings with a combination of impressive technique and questionable steering from Cox Sophie Shapter.
Across the line, the result was given in favour of Expecto Patronum by two lengths.
The Cambridge Men’s Trial Eights: A Fight To The Finish
If match-racing practice makes perfect, then Cambridge University Men’s Boat Club will be well-versed in the complex and tricky art by the time The Boat Race rolls around in March. The annual Trial Eights culminated in a fantastic race between two crews of impressively high calibre as the Light Blues stepped up their preparation for The Cancer Research UK Boat Race 2018.
The two crews, named Goblins and Goons, lined up on the Middlesex and Surrey sides respectively. Both crews stole away cleanly, churning up the water outside Putney Embankment and threatening to leave the flotilla of following craft in their wake.
It was Goblins, steered by Cambridge Men’s President Hugo Ramambason, who took the early advantage of a couple of seats and maintained this around the early Fulham elbow.
The crews battled for linear supremacy and drew level underneath the struts of Hammersmith Bridge. Goons, with Blue Freddie Davidson stroking the crew, began to edge ahead as they claimed the full advantage of their Surrey bend.
Goblins were not easily quashed though, applying significant pressure despite their bend disadvantage. The crews drew level again, in a display of rowing which buoyed Goblins and led to them regaining the advantage approaching the Bandstand.
An intense duel followed, whereby both crews took turns in attacking each other. Goblins maintained their half-length lead and shot the distinctive arches of Barnes Bridge under pressure from an increasingly desperate Goons boat. The pain was etched onto the faces of each of the sixteen rowers as they wound through the gears approaching the finish.
Crossing the line, it was Goblins who took the win by around 1/2 a length. Both crews collapsed over the line, exhausted after a fine exhibition of competitive match racing.