Henley-on-Thames, Saturday 26th March 2005
Oxford added four more wins to its Dark versus Light Blue tally today, winning all but one of the women's and lightweights races at Henley. Unfortunately for them, and to the delight of Cambridge, that one was the Women's Boat Race, which had previously eluded them for three years. Conditions were excellent, a light crosswind and reasonable but not excessive stream, though the steady procession of Devizes to Westminster canoeists racing down the track did look unnervingly as if they were going to cause an obstruction.
As the heavyweight women set off, Cambridge on the Berkshire station took a slight lead but were quickly levelled and then pushed past by the heavier Oxford crew. At one stage the Dark Blue margin was half a length, but they were over-rating and not making any more impression. A classy push from Cambridge as they neared Remenham Club saw them closing the gap fast, before going ahead with 750m gone. At Fawley Cambridge had half a length themselves, which they stretched to a solid two and a third lengths by the finish.
The lightweight men's races both went to Oxford, Nephthys beating Granta by a significant margin after rollicking into more than a length lead in the first couple of hundred metres. Their first boats almost matched this, OULRC making it three lengths at the finish but with the result never in doubt.
Oxford also won the other two women's races: openweight reserves Osiris edging past Blondie steadily with both crews at a steady rate, and the lightweight Dark Blues recording the closest margin of the day, half a length, but again never from having been down. This race was nearly catastrophic on several levels, however, and it can be counted a miracle both crews got to the finish intact. At the first attempt the crews started together, but within ten strokes CUWLRC had stopped, with two girl Katie Smith off her apparently stuck seat. Umpire Mike Baldwin aborted the race, under the breakage rule which extends to the Hole in the Wall, and restarted from the stake-boats ten minutes later.
Already ruffled, the crews began veering closer together as they raced bowball to bowball down the Enclosures area. OUWLRC were warned, just as spectators further downstream realised that three hefty cruisers were heading towards the crews in mid-river, blithely unaware that anything so important as a Boat Race was taking place. The Environment Agency launches sped out, and turned all three to the bank just in time, but not before the crews had had to move their line towards Bucks and even closer towards each other.
After surviving the cruiser-wash, which was noticeable, the lightweight women's problems were still not over. Passing Upper Thames with OUWLRC half a length to the good, the blade-tips were hovering inches from each other, clashes imminent. Having already warned both crews to move apart, Baldwin then left them to it: as he said afterwards, they were both in neutral territory. If a clash had led to a breakage, they would have had to abide by their poor judgment and take the consequences of being out of their respective stations. Fortunately despite remaining close down the course, and even overlapping blades, there were no crabs or missed strokes, and the race finished cleanly at Temple Island.
Reserves: Nephthys bt Granta by 4.5 lengths, 6:07 to 6:27. Fawley times NTT and 3:36 respectively
Lightweights: Oxford bt Cambridge by 3 lengths, 5:51 to 6:03. Fawley times 3:16 and 3:22 respectively.