The 2023 Oxbridge Vets’ Boat Races: Surviving “Masters’ Moments”

The 2023 Oxford Veterans pictured just after their race.

29 March 2023

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch follows his favourite Boat Races.

On Boat Race Eve, the 2nd Women’s and 27th Men’s Oxford – Cambridge Veterans’ (aka Masters’) Boat Race was run over the approximately one-and-a-half-mile course from Putney Stone to Furnivall Steps, a distance usually covered by the men in seven minutes plus and by the women in nine minutes plus. The finishing point is where the bends even out, the first half of the race favouring Middlesex, the second Surrey.

As we age, it can be common to suffer “senior moments”, the non-medical term for a brief lapse of memory or a moment of confusion. I imagine that, not too long into their race, many of the rowers (particularly those in second place) had a “masters’ moment”, that is the inability to remember why they had agreed to take part in a Tideway match race, something that hurt badly enough when they did it possessing a body that was perhaps 20-30 years younger. 

One of the participants in the 2003 Boat Race reunion sprint race that took place just after the Vet’s Boat Races said, “It’s not like any other sport, you get forty seconds in and it hurts like hell, and another forty seconds in and you can’t feel your teeth…”

The Women’s Race

Cambridge goes afloat.
The Oxford Vets were on Middlesex.
The Cambridge Vets were on Surrey.
After losing by nearly four lengths in the first Oxbridge Women’s Boat Race in 2022, Cambridge brought in some big names to produce big puddles: Sarah Winckless, Anna Watkins and Cath Bishop. Further, they produced a crew that averaged six years younger than their Oxford opponents.

With Matt Smith umpiring (as he would the Women’s Boat Race the next day), Oxford went off at a higher rate than Cambridge and initially took a slight lead. The Light Blues, stroked by Fran Rawlins backed up by Sarah Winckless, were unfazed and both crews settled in the mid-30s.

As in all rowing race pictures taken from the side and astern, the parallax error produces a false picture of their relative positions. Here at Thames Rowing Club, the crews are almost level with Cambridge edging ahead.
At the so-called “Black Buoy” at the end of Putney Embankment, the conditions got worse and both crews dropped their rate, Oxford a couple of pips below their opponents.
Cambridge dealt with the wind and rough water better than Oxford and there was clear water between the two approaching Barn Elms boathouse.
Before the Mile Post, Cambridge were a length ahead and Oxford was unable to respond. The Mile Post times were Cambridge 4 min 58 sec, Oxford 5 mins 05 secs.
At Harrods, Cambridge did not need the bend advantage that they would soon enjoy. 
A screenshot from the BBC’s coverage showing River View Buoy and the approach to Hammersmith Bridge.
The finish is twenty strokes from the bridge.
Last few strokes for Oxford.
Cambridge’s time was 9 mins 24 secs and Oxford’s was 9 mins 39 secs, a win for the Light Blues by five lengths.

Umpire Matt Smith summed up the race: “Oxford hung on until the (end of the) Fulham Wall and then they could only do so much more hanging…”

The BBC uses the Vets’ Races as filming practice for Boat Race Day. The results are not broadcast but are available to view on YouTube. The Women’s Race starts at 3 mins 56 secs into the recording below.

The Men’s Race

The men’s crews were similar in age, weight and experience, but not, as it turned out, speed.
Cambridge (on Middlesex) went off with superior power and pace and immediately went into the lead, striding three pips higher than their opponent’s 33 strokes per minute.
Before the end of the line of clubs on Putney Embankment, Cambridge were a length up and had established a nice rhythm despite the conditions.
It transpired that Oxford were underpowered compared to Cambridge.
Approaching Barn Elms boathouse, Cambridge were already almost certain winners and were able to sit on their opposition and make them row in their puddles.
The gap at Barn Elms.
Cambridge’s Mile Post time was 3 min 56 secs.
Oxford’s Mile Post time was 4 min 05 secs.
A screenshot from the BBC coverage showing the race at Tea Rose Buoy and Tea Rose Jetty, just downstream of Harrods.
Cambridge cox, Henry Fieldman, checking out the opposition.
As Oxford passed under Hammersmith Bridge, Cambridge were already on the line and finished 15 seconds ahead in a time of 7 mins 31 secs. 

David Dix, who rowed at “3” in the Cambridge boat and who was the old man of the crew at 55, said, “We hit a rhythm very early, it was a wonderful row actually, I loved every second of it, I wanted to keep going… Henry was calling 1.20 splits and we were just knocking them out…”

I asked race umpire Tony Reynolds to sum up the race and he did it rather succinctly: “One warning and then Cambridge moved away.”

In the BBC coverage on YouTube, the race starts at 7 mins 44 secs in.

The results of the men’s veteran races since I started to cover the event in 2011. 

Rachel Quarrell’s Vets’ Race reports are on the official Boat Race website

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.