Boat Race Day From Three Perspectives. Part I: The Start

Putney at 11.15 on Boat Race Day, 26 March 2023. It was an overcast and grey start to the day and showers were forecast. This, plus the fact that the races were due to go off at 4pm for the women and 5pm for the men meant that the crowds were late to gather.

3 April 2023

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch’s visual impressions of Boat Race Day 2023.

More than a week after The Big Day, I do not have to preface my remarks with a “spoiler alert” warning that I am going to reveal that Cambridge won all four races on 26 March, the men’s and women’s Blue and reserve crew races. 

As usual, I am working on the fairly safe assumption that HTBS Types will have watched the broadcast of the day live or on catch-up and may have also read some reports on the day such as those from Tom Ransley on both the men’s and women’s race. There were also non-paywall online reports from Ben Bloom in The Guardian, Rachel Steinberg in the Independent and Jim White in The Telegraph. None of the latter three were exactly in-depth race reports but perhaps you get what you don’t pay for. 

Also as usual, I am not going to produce a lot of text on what happened in the day’s races but am instead just going to give visual impressions of Boat Race Day 2023 through my pictures. I was allocated a place in the media launch following the women’s race so my three posts will cover the start at Putney, the women’s race in its entirety and the men’s race at the end, and will conclude with the emotional scenes involving the competitors back on dry land at the finish at Mortlake.  

The view down the course from Putney Bridge. The buoys for the stake boats look to be in the wrong place but this picture was taken while the tide was still on the ebb. Once the tide turned, they were level with the temporarily obscured University Stone.
I had the impression that the police presence on land and water was greater than usual. Possibly, there was the fear of some sort of demonstration by environmental activists. The Boat Race has a long tradition of attracting those wanting radical change including Suffragettes (1910 – 1913), Irish Republicans (1936), a public schoolboy (2012) and students against Oxbridge fossil fuel investments (2018 and 2019). 
At 1pm, a “flotilla of traditional and historically significant boats and vessels” reached Putney having rowed over the course. 

It was particularly appropriate that many Cornish Gigs took part in the traditional boat row past (such as the one pictured above from the London Cornish Pilot Gig Club) as the Oxford boat used in the first Boat Race (held in Henley in 1829) owed most of its design and method of construction to the pilot gigs of Cornwall. According to “Jackson’s Oxford Journal” of 1829, the Cambridge boat was “far inferior in the water, dipping to the oar whilst (Oxford’s) rose to every stroke in fine style…”

Tony Reynolds (CUBC 1984), the men’s race umpire. Previously, he umpired the Osiris-Blondie race in 2020 and 2022, and the Isis-Goldie race in 2021.
Temporarily at the wrong end of the course, finish flagman, Josh Kent (left) with his father and finish judge, Ben (right). 

The Kents have been Boat Race finish judges since 1928 when CW “Bill” Kent (OUBC 1891) took on the role, then only the fifth man to do this since amateurs took over from professionals in 1878. In 1952, Bill Kent was succeeded by his son, John “Jack” de R Kent (OUBC 1932). Between 1968 and 1998 Jack’s son, John F Kent, did the job and in 1999 he was succeeded by his nephew, BDJ (Ben) Kent (Isis 1987). Ben’s eldest son, Josh, began as the finish flagman in 2021. He won the Fawley at Henley in 2013 and was in the silver medal winning GB U23 Coxed Four at the World U23 Championships in 2017. Whether Josh succeeds his father as the fifth Kent to be a Boat Race finish judge at some point in the future would ultimately be up to the Boat Race Umpires’ Panel.

Donald Macdonald (OUBC 1986, 1987) pictured outside London Rowing Club. Famously, he was Oxford President in the so-called “Mutiny” year of 1987. 

The 1987 Boat Race is dead but will not lie down – as the last 30 plus years show.

1989: True Blue: The Oxford Boat Race Mutiny by Oxford Coach, Dan Topolski.

1991: The Yanks at Oxford: The 1987 Boat Race Controversy by Alison Gill.

1996: True Blue, a feature film that was released in the US in 2004 as Miracle at Oxford.

2012: Macdonald talks to the Daily Mail

2023: “Mutineer” Chris Clark talks to Junior Rowing News.

I suspect that the truth about the events leading up to the 1987 Boat Race is rather like the Schleswig–Holstein question, a complex set of diplomatic and other issues arising in the 19th century from the relations of the two eponymous European duchies. Lord Palmerston said of it, “The Schleswig-Holstein question is so complicated that only three men in Europe have ever understood it. One was Prince Albert, who is dead. The second was a German professor who went mad. I am the third and I have forgotten.”

Sensible attire for the day.
Two more appropriately dressed Boat Race supporters on the Embankment. Dark Blue looks worried, Light Blue looks confident. 
Jenna Armstrong moving from a bus seat towards the Cambridge “4” seat.
At the women’s coin toss, left to right: Isabelle Bastian, Caoimhe Dempsey, Sara Helin and Umpire Matt Smith.
Behind the barriers, waiting for the women’s race press boat.
Final checks for Cambridge.
Oxford are the first to push off.
Cox Tara Slade, Stroke Esther Austin and “7” Sarah Marshall.
Isabelle Bastian tools up.
Cambridge go afloat.
A last word from coach, Paddy Ryan.
Blondie, the Cambridge women’s reserves.
The Putney Embankment crowds await the first race.
Oxford on the way to the start.
Cambridge on the start.

Tomorrow: Part II, On The Water.

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