A vintage Veteran Boat Race on Easter Saturday was won by Cambridge’s old boys by a mere six feet, in a ‘photofinish’ which had to be judged by the CUBC spare pair waving the flag on the bank at Furnivall Steps.
Oxford’s veterans, including Olympians Gerritjan Eggenkamp, Roberto Blanda, and stroke Barney Williams, won the toss and bravely chose Surrey. Up against them were Cambridge also with three Olympians — Matthew Parish, Guy Pooley and former lightweight Tom Middleton, while the coxes were international medallists and former Blues Zoe de Toledo (Oxford) and Henry Fieldman (Cambridge) respectively.
Both crews started with spirit, Cambridge at 45 and Oxford at 44, and the Light Blues stayed high-rating slightly longer, which gave them a couple of early seats. Oxford took these back as they settled into a solid race rhythm, and the initial dash along the moored boats was evenly matched. There was a brief warning for Oxford from umpire Matt Smith as they passed Chas Newens’ Marine, but there was nothing in the margin between the crews as they reached the Black Buoy.
The first big Cambridge push came soon afterwards, a couple of seats steadily stretching into half a length and then three-quarters as the crews neared Barn Elms. Just after Fulham Football Ground Fieldman was warned as his corner ran out, but it was clear Cambridge had the upper hand. At the Milepost, where Cambridge were two seconds up, Oxford stopped the rot and started to fight back. With both crews rating 33-34 and looking grimly determined, they dug in on relatively calm water and clawed the margin back to less than half a length. Smith’s umpire’s flag was needed to warn both crews, and it began to turn into a spectacular race.
A critical moment came just before the Depositary, when Cambridge were warned not to cut across the corner approaching Hammersmith Bridge, and their resulting steer gave Oxford the chance to push back nearly on terms. Two seats to Cambridge, one seat to Cambridge, more warnings for both crews, a slight touch of the oars as they knitted in and out of each other, and at Hammersmith Bridge it became a flat-out dogfight for the last minute.
The scramble to the finish line at Furnivall Steps, opposite British Rowing’s headquarters, was such a confusion that after stopping, nobody knew for certain who had won. The verdict was given as a canvas to the Cambridge veterans, announced by the Cambridge spares but suitably, for a six-foot margin, witnessed on the bank by Richard Phelps, Boat Race umpire and descendant of “Honest John” who adjudicated the famous 1877 dead-heat in the main race. Despite some disbelief in both boats that the gap was as much as six feet, and that such precision could be valid given the non-fixed start and approximate finish line, Cambridge were announced worthy winners to give them their 14th victory in the 21 years of the race.
Milepost: Cambridge Veterans 3min 49sec, Oxford Veterans 3min 51sec
Hammersmith: Both crews 6min 51sec, Cambridge leading
Finish: Both crews 7min 19sec, verdict to Cambridge by a canvas (6ft).