Cambridge University Rowers Find Unity Amidst Isolation

On Boat Race Day 2018, the Cambridge men’s and women’s open weight Blue and reserve crews were united in victory.

10 May 2020

By William O’Chee with additional reporting by Tim Koch

There is a certain irony that the three representative rowing clubs at Cambridge University – Cambridge University Boat Club, Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club and Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club – should choose to amalgamate in the midst of Britain’s COVID-19 social isolation.

Historically, C.U.B.C. was Cambridge University’s sole representative club from 1829 until C.U.W.B.C. was established in 1941 to prepare a crew for the Women’s Boat Race, although Oxford University Women’s Boat Club had been in existence since 1927. The first Men’s Lightweight Boat Race then spawned C.U.L.R.C. in 1977.

Forty years of division have been ended with the amalgamation of all three clubs into a revamped C.U.B.C.

Speaking from his home in the Thames Valley, C.U.L.R.C.’s last President, Teague Smith, explained to HTBS that the amalgamation was the result of quite a few year’s work by all of the clubs.

“With the men’s and women’s lightweights now racing on the championship course, we are all racing together and working together,” Smith said.

The change was not easy to bring about.

“It has been several years in the making and has been a progression over the years – not something that could be done overnight,” Smith stated.

C.U.L.R.C.’s last President, Teague Smith (centre) after this year’s Lightweight Boat Race. The club will change but the blazers will remain.

As, at Oxford, the membership of the representative clubs rests not just with current rowers but includes all of their past representatives, known as Old Blues. The merger could not take place, therefore, until a majority of Old Blues of all three clubs concurred, but eventually this was achieved.

There may be reasons other than closer cooperation behind the amalgamation. With continued sponsorship of the heavyweight men’s and women’s races already rumoured to be tenuous, amalgamation would allow cost savings to be made at Ely, including centralising all the squads under a smaller, unified coaching team.

Although the new C.U.B.C. will have one executive committee, it will have four presidents – one for each of the heavyweight and lightweight women’s squads. This will inevitably mean a shift in power to the coaching team, with the squad presidents becoming figureheads rather than decisions makers.

One thing which is unlikely to change any time soon, though, is the colourful panoply of Cambridge University blazers. These include the light blue, green and yellow striped Goldie blazer, a predominantly yellow blazer with light blue stripes for Blondie, and a cream blazer with light blue stripes for the men’s lightweights.

Smith for one is keen to keep the current men’s lightweight blazer, which he considers one of the most recognisable blazers on the Henley towpath each year. He proudly points out that it not only differs from the Cambridge’s other half blue blazers which are cream with white piping, and so is unique.

Whether the merger of the three Cambridge clubs will make any long-term difference in their never-ending war with Oxford, only time will tell.

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