Felix Drinkall: The Boat Race Personified 

Felix Drinkall at the 2018 Crew Announcement for his first Boat Race.

28 March 2023

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch begins to collect his thoughts and edit his pictures following a remarkable week on the Thames Tideway.

When I took the above photograph in 2018, it was simply a mildly amusing picture appearing to illustrate Felix Drinkall’s desire to win the Boat Race. However, Drinkall’s Boat Race career since then has made it a rather poignant image as he lost with the 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2023 Oxford crews, suffered the cancellation of the 2020 race and missed out on the Dark Blue’s 2022 win. At the end of this year’s race, he collapsed in the boat and was taken ashore for medical attention and hospital checks.

Late on Boat Race Day, the Boat Race Company announced:

Two Oxford University Boat Club athletes received medical attention following today’s Men’s Race. We are pleased to confirm that both are doing well and we would like to thank the RNLI, St John Ambulance and the London Ambulance service.

In a dark week for the Dark Blues, Oxford’s men’s and women’s crews lost to their Cambridge counterparts in the races between the blue boats, the reserves, the lightweights and the “spare pairs”. This 8-0 score could be increased to 10-0 if the results of the veterans’ races are included or even 11-0 if a “re-row” between some remnants of the 2003 Boat Race is counted.

Oxford, however, can take great pride in the fact that it was one of their own who showed the world what The Boat Race, a private match between student athletes (who are fitter than most professional sportspeople) that has no second place and no financial reward, means to those who take part and to what extent they will push themselves both physically and mentally. 

It is said that any one-on-one contest between two boats is a race until one crew decides that it cannot win. While I am sure that none of the Oxford men ever stopped applying awesome amounts of power even when they knew that Cambridge had an unchallengeable lead, it was Drinkall that gave the 110% that usually only exists in cliché strewn post-match football interviews and who managed to switch off that part of the mind that stops even the ridiculously fit and highly trained from injuring themselves through physical effort.

Four victorious Cambridge crews on the 2023 winners’ podium. Picture: @CUBC Squad

Oxford rowing will, of course, survive and go on to record many more wins. After 168 contests, the men’s score is still remarkably close at Cambridge 86 wins, Oxford 81. When Cambridge achieved an unbroken run of wins between 1924 and 1936, and when Oxford did the same between 1976 and 1985, the losing side must have thought that their humiliation would never or could never end – but it did. How? 

Again returning to boat racing lore, when one boat overtakes another after a long period behind, it is usually not because it has gone faster, it is because the boat that initially led has gone slower. A losing club will try new things while a winning club is hesitant to change a successful formula.

Looking at the men’s results this century though, I think that because of the increasingly professional approach by both sides, the time of long unbroken wins by one university is over. The women, still new to sponsorship, will eventually settle into this mode as well.

Where does Oxford go from here? I think that if anyone was tempted to criticise the coaches, they would be wrong. Sean Bowden’s record as men’s coach speaks for itself and Andy Nelder has a fine record with lightweights and reserves and, as the women’s coach since 2018, has probably got the best performances that anyone could have achieved with the people that he has had available. 

A lot of the television pundits felt that Cambridge has benefited greatly from merging the men’s and women’s squads, openweights and lightweights, into one club and that Oxford should do the same. I did hear one idea, that the Dark Blues were thinking of merging just the openweight men and women – but “citation needed.” 

A post on the Oxford – Cambridge Veterans’ Boat Races and another of pictures from Boat Race Day will follow soon. Below are other images from the Light Blue dominated week.


The Cambridge Men’s Lightweights beat Oxford’s by 11 lengths. Picture: C. Nordin Catic via @CUBCsquad.
The Cambridge Women’s Lightweights beat Oxford’s by 6 lengths. Picture: C. Nordin Catic via @CUBCsquad.

Possibly biased race reports on the lightweight races are on the CUBC website.  

Veterans (aka Masters)

The winners of the 2nd Oxford – Cambridge Women’s Veteran Boat Race. The score is now 1-1.
The winners of the 27th Oxford – Cambridge Men’s Veteran Boat Race. The official score is now Oxford 10, Cambridge 17 (though I would argue it is 10-18 as Cambridge won an Oxbridge Vets’ race in 1922).

A full report will follow.

On 22 March, the crew of the 1973 Cambridge Women’s Blue Boat met up with their 2023 counterparts. Picture: @siobhangcassidy.


This year is the twentieth anniversary of the remarkable Boat Race of 2003. In my article on it in this year’s Boat Race Digital Magazine/Programme, I noted that, “the drama of the run-up was only exceeded by the excitement of the race itself.” 

Pre-race there was the fact that eventually there were two pairs of brothers racing, all from the same school, one sibling in each crew; the Light Blues were 7.5 kg per man heavier, a weight advantage never before overcome; the day before the race, Cambridge wrote-off its boat in a collision, the injured bowman had to be subbed and everything was postponed for 24-hours. 

During the race itself, whichever crew had the bend advantage went ahead, the lead changing three times. Both crews crossed the line in 18 minutes 6 seconds but the verdict was a win for Oxford by one foot, the closest race since the dead heat of 1877 (which was a genuine draw, whatever the internet says).

Veterans of 2003 go afloat.

On the day before the Boat Race, an informal “re-row” involving many of those from 2003 was run on the sensibly short course of the start to the Black Buoy, that is just the length of Putney Embankment. 

On a busy weekend for him, Matt Smith was back in Oxford’s stroke seat (the next day he umpired the Women’s Boat Race).

Oxford had four of the original crew and subs from the 2003 Isis boat. Sadly, their cox from twenty years ago, Acer Nethercott, died at the age of 35 in 2013. I understand that Cambridge had managed to boat slightly more of their old crew.

The race is on – with a lot of Aberdeen Asset Management kit on show. 

I positioned myself opposite the “Black Buoy” (which is nowadays yellow) with my camera in case a photo finish was needed. As it happens, the verdict was an obvious half-a-length to Cambridge.

Passing the finish marker, the so-called Black Buoy, Cambridge have another win.
The Light Blues record their victory.
During Tideway Week, the churches at either end of Putney Bridge, St Mary’s, Putney (left) and All Saints, Fulham (right), both fly the Boat Race flag.
Fans of boat racing are a hardy lot.

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