Cambridge Trial Eights

The Cambridge Women’s Trial Eights: Expecto Patronum Conjures Up A Magic Push

Named after spells in the Harry Potter series, “Expecto Patronum” (the white boat in the background) was on Surrey and “Wingardium Leviosa” (the yellow boat in the foreground) was on Middlesex.

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.

The Championship Course. Graphic:

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.

On the start, in front of a famous Putney landmark, the Star and Garter, are “Patronum” (far side) and “Leviosa” (near side).

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.

Halfway along the Putney Embankment, passing Thames Rowing Club, “Leviosa” leads “Patonum”. As with all such pictures taken from the side and slightly back, the parallax error gives an apparent advantage to the crew closest to the camera.
Passing Barn Elms.
At the Mile Post.

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.

Passing Harrods, “Leviosa”’s lead is reduced. Umpire Pinsent warns both crews.
A push by “Patronum” at Hammersmith gives them the lead.

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.

Approaching the halfway point, “Patronum” are warned again.

Patronum continued to draw away from Leviosa, establishing a clear-water advantage by Chiswick Eyot and pushing further ahead passing the Bandstand.

In Corney Reach, approaching Chiswick Pier.
Winning or losing, it all hurts.

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.

Approaching Barnes Bridge, “Patronum” keep their lead.
At the Mortlake Brewery and The Ship pub, the end is near.

Across the line, the result was given in favour of Expecto Patronum by two lengths.

The finish, downstream of Chiswick Bridge. Those in the losing boat can console themselves with the thought that some of them will almost certainly still be chosen for The Blue Boat to race Oxford on 24 March.

The Cambridge Men’s Trial Eights: A Fight To The Finish

Divine support from St Mary’s, Putney (though they do the same for Oxford).

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.

Off the start. On the far side (Surrey) with the black tops are “Goons”, on the near side (Middlesex) with the white tops are “Goblins”.

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.

Passing the Imperial College boathouse on Putney Embankment, “Goblins” lead “Goons” (though not by as much as the parallax error suggests).
“Goons”, stoked by Freddie Davidson, coxed by Hugh Spaughton.
At Barn Elms, “Goblins” maintain their early lead.
A warning for “Goblins” at the Mile Post by the umpire, John Garrett.

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”, stroked by Finn Meeks, coxed by Hugo Ramambason.
Passing the old Harrods Depository, “Goons” edge closer to “Goblins”.
Level under Hammersmith Bridge.
The view from Hammersmith Bridge. Picture: Alastair Davidson @A23Alastair.

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.

In Chiswick Reach, the “Goons” are in front.
A warning for both crews in Corney Reach, “Goblins” now in the lead.

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.

“Goblins” are first through Barnes Bridge.
Approaching Mortlake Brewery and the Ship pub.

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.

Ramambason and Meeks (foreground) and Spaughton and Davidson (background) recover from a race that must have pleased coach Steve Trapmore (though it probably did not make his job of picking a final crew any easier).
A sporting gesture from Dara Alizadeh, ‘6’ in the “Goons”.
Peter Rees (‘2’ in “Goons”) exchanges knowing glances with an Old Blue.

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