The Real Boat Race: 3 April 2022

When fair April with his showers sweet

Hath pierced the drought of March to the root’s feet

And bathed each vein in liquor of such power

Its strength creates the newly-springed flower

So Nature stirs them up to such a pitch

That folk all long to go on pilgrimage

And wandering travellers tread new shores, strange strands.

Geoffrey Chaucer. (1360). General Prologue. The Canterbury Tales.

The Spring Working Party had power-washed the safety boat and hedge-trimmed the foliage, stacking the branches in a spring-green avenue, to enable a parade of 9 boats onto the bone-chillingly cold river that the OOD’s thermometer registered at just 9 degrees Celsius.

An F1-F3 wind, feeling much colder than the 9 degrees air, was steadily from the North which indicated a long ‘A’ course, wind over tide, as the best option for David Jones to lay one buoy upstream beyond the Bell & Crown and the other far downstream towards the City Barge. It could even have enabled a classic ‘Round the Island Race’.

As the OOD arrived to set up the flags, so two 24’ Cornish 4-seater all-women gigs; plus 2 male coxes, happy followers after the Women’s Boat Race, arrived to celebrate their Cambridge win – and moor their boat bows to the shore, across the river, until very politely being invited by the OOD to consider mooring behind each other alongside the bank – which they kindly agreed to do; helped by the very knowledgeable and honourable presence of Margaret Berger, who could attest to the wisdom of their not being in the way of the sailors of the SGSC!  

Lev [with David] was the last to the start line – and most adroitly turned to cross it first while the remaining fleet drifted back; all then finding just enough in a stiff puff to get them going – with Nick in the Duckling flapping about at the rear to stay in touch.  The wind quickly picked up to F3 and James [with Ruth] decided to sail out the mainstream and go outside the PLA trot – and he was followed by David Berger in Big Polly [with Nikita, a very friendly Russian, recruited on the day for an exploratory sail], while everyone else stuck to the North bank run.

A 15-minute circuit brought them back to the ODD, with James in the lead, but now with Ian in Vibe second, with David just behind, but only one second ahead of Tim. Then, within two minutes, both Rob and Ben, then Chris [with Felicia] and Lev [with David], each pair sparred within a second of each other.

On the second lap, James repeated his main river trick – but stalled at the crossing before Oliver Island, though he was now followed by both Ben and Rob, while Ian and Tim still preferred the inside track. Apart from James [and Nick, who was about to be lapped by him], all the other 7 boats were now all about to cross the line simultaneously, all within exactly the same minute of each other; a nightmare for the OOD with a cheerful Boat Race party going on around him!

Thankfully, the stiffening wind then stretched the fleet out for a third lap time ranging from 10 minutes to 52 [alas for Nick] while Ian mysteriously disappeared for a while [becalmed somewhere in monastic contemplation] – but still a minute and a half ahead of Tim; though now just 4 minutes in front of James, who could potentially have lapped him

The fourth lap saw Nick drop well back, while Chris [with Felicia] was still keeping in touch with the Enterprises, and ahead of Ian and Tim who were fortunate to be just two seconds behind James who got the notice of the final lap.

Ian snuck across the line just 2 seconds after James on his 5th and final lap to finish with four laps, likewise followed by Tim.

Also with five laps each were David [with Nikita] and Rob – also just one second apart. And then, controversially, Lev and Ben – each also one second apart. Ben thought he had somewhere transgressed in a manoeuvre; but this was unseen by anyone else – and though it was asserted by him that the times should be reversed, the ODD recorded the observed timing.

One minute later, Chris [with Felicia] arrived last to finish, but very happy to finish, cheerfully crossing the line to the OOD’s whistle – and waving greetings to the pub crowd!

It so happened that, while these two pairs of finishers were within one second of each other, so also the two Cornish gigs Boat Race party of 10, 5 in each boat, decided that now was the time for their departure – and so amidst a flurry of bags and jackets and unsteady tumbling down steps into their rocky boats, this dramatic race was concluded.

However, the end of our race was not according to the normal Boat Race tradition of the winning team’s cox [James, the helm] being thrown into the river! That would have made ours a Real Boat Race!

What was actually tossed into the river was the ritualistic Spring offering of green hedge foliage, swept away on the stream water flowing from our 12-foot deep down-to-the-riverbed well under the canoe rack, also at 9 degrees Celsius; delivering piercing cold to the root’s feet for the folk on their pilgrimage on the Strand.

Tea and Waitrose Chocolate Biscuits Selection warmed everyone up, down to the root’s feet; especially those of David Jones for his single-handled work in the Safety Boat.

Andy Ross

4 April 2022