5 April 2021
By Chris Dodd
On Hammersmith Bridge, where we said our goodbyes
The weather conditions bring tears to my eyes…
– with apologies to Wendy Cope, poet laureate of Ely
Cambridge’s men avenged their defeat in the unofficial 1944 Boat Race in a gutsy, rhythmic performance from Adelaide to Littleport on the Great Ouse at Ely yesterday.
The 166th encounter between Oxford and Cambridge was the second occasion that the fixture has been away from the Thames (counting the 1944 race), and Sarah Winckless became the first woman to umpire the men’s race.
Winckless’s hopes of a quiet afternoon on this straight course of 4.89 km were wrecked by Charlie Marcus, the Cambridge cox, who bored over to Oxford from his East station as soon as his boat built a half-length lead off the start. Winckless warned him 15 times before I stopped counting, at least once by name, which warns of a hanging offence.
Fortunately, there were no clashes, and Oxford put up a good fight. For much of the way the Dark Blues were between half-a-length and a canvas down. The verdict was a length to Cambridge in 14 minutes 12 seconds. The score is now Cambridge 85, Oxford 80, with one dead heat, 1877.
Judith Packer had almost as lively time presiding over the 75th women’s race when Oxford’s cox, Costi Levy, almost pushed Cambridge into the reed beds on their West station. Approaching half-way, Levy was courting disaster when the crews knitted blades. They parted without touching, and were abreast all the way to Littleport, Cambridge completing the course in 16 minutes 27 seconds, almost one length ahead of Oxford. The score is now Cambridge 45, Oxford 30.
The races were cancelled last year because it was impossible to enforce social distancing among the vast crowds who flock to the Thames on Boat Race Day. The 2021 races moved to the Great Ouse in the bleak flatlands of Cambridge country because access can be blocked. The second reason for decamping to Ely was the current ban on boating under Hammersmith Bridge, a third of the way into the traditional Boat Race course. The bridge is falling down and awaiting its stakeholders to find the millions required to make it safe.
Pictures from the BBC broadcast.
Update 7 April: The winning times for the Cambridge crews have been corrected.