First 50-Year Reunion for Cambridge Women

The 1973 crew (back row) and the 2023 Blue Boat crew with chief coach Paddy Ryan. Photo courtesy of Ben Tufnell.

6 April 2023

Text by Sally Visick (Newnham 1972), CUWBC 1973 and 1975.
Photos edited by Jane Kingsbury, CUWBC 1970-73.

On Wednesday morning, 22 March, four days before the 2023 Boat Races, a small group of women gathered at Putney to celebrate that half a century earlier they had raced in the women’s Boat Race for Cambridge, writes Sally Visick.

Some of us had not met since our student days, a few had remained more closely in touch and only two (for travel and family reasons) were unable to join us. This was the 50th anniversary reunion of the winning 1973 Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club (CUWBC) crew. In 2020, CUWBC joined CUBC., so there is now one club for both men and women.

Cambridge University Boat Club (CUBC) personnel welcomed us warmly and we had a quick tour of the boathouse and an opportunity to chat to some of the Blondie (reserve) crew before we went afloat. Then in warm sunshine we boarded Amaryllis, the magnificent 50-foot river launch originally built for CUBC in 1928 and now, although no longer owned by the club, always made available for the week leading up to the races. Amaryllis and her skipper, Dan Wood, treated us to grandstand views of both the Blue Boat and Blondie as they warmed up before doing two starts and two minutes at full pressure, closely observed by head coach Paddy Ryan and his assistant.

What a difference 50 years makes in terms of training and technology: a carbon fibre shell with aerodynamic wing riggers and sophisticated telemetry feeding back via a small screen on the stretcher of each athlete; women who have the fitness, skill, physical and mental resilience to row over 4.2 miles and a squad with equal access to top class facilities, coaching and technical support. It’s a far cry from rowing on the Cam in 1973 (races were held alternate years on the Isis): the distance was 1200 metres up the Long Reach, the longest straight section where side by side racing was possible; the changing room was a ‘cupboard’ in First and Third which we shared with the beer barrels and confectionery supplies (post outing Mars bars were readily available); and while we may have done some running (none of us could quite remember), there was no weight-training that year – it came later. Our coaches were students: David Maxwell (Jesus) who went on to win World and Olympic silver medals with the GB VIII and Graham Zanker (Gonville and Caius). Graham, who acted as umpire and timekeeper for our race, recalls being pestered for our time by Philip Howard of The Times while Oxford had yet to finish. 

But some things don’t change: the love of the sport, the escape that is being on the water (some of us still row), the camaraderie and relationships that are developed when you train as a group and that wonderful feeling when everything comes together – eight people rowing as a perfect unit and the boat running like a dream. It may not last very long or happen very often, but it is nonetheless unforgettable.

Siobhan Cassidy, interim chair of the Boat Race Company, following the tragic and untimely death of Dr Tim Senior, joined us on Amaryllis, and Chris Baillieu, CUBC President in our era, popped down to say hello when we came ashore. We were able to linger in the sunshine chatting to the delightful women of the Blue Boat crew and having our photograph taken by Ben Tufnell before decamping to a nearby pub for a convivial lunch. Both absentee crew members joined us via WhatsApp video while we were on the water and later in the pub, and the whole event, sparked off by the enduring enthusiasm of Vicky Singh (nee Markham), CUWBC President in 1973 and ‘74, was an unqualified success. We all hope that this will be the start of regular 50th reunions of erstwhile CUWBC rowers.

After a such memorable day we were delighted with all the results on Sunday, 26th March, completing as they did a clean sweep for Cambridge crews, but I am sure our loudest cheers were for the women.

The 2023 Women’s Blue Boat crew in training on 24 March.

Carol Williams, who rowed for CUWBC in 1972, joined the 1973 crew on the Amaryllis as her fellow crew member, Jane Kingsbury (Wood) was unable to be there. Carol and Jane jointly wrote the history of CUWBC, Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club 1941 to 2014: The Struggle Against Inequality in 2015.

One comment

  1. How wonderful. I was in the Blue boat 1967-69. I take it that’s Marguerite you’re rowing in, and that’s probably my No 8 Stroke oar you’re holding.
    Angela Lishman Girton 66

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