For the first time ever today, the two Trial Eights for the Oxford and Cambridge Women’s Boat Clubs took place on the Championship Course on the Thames.
In a move that brings them a step closer to racing The Newton Women’s Boat Race on the Tideway in 2015, first Oxford, then Cambridge took to the water in matched eights. ‘Matched’ they certainly were, with both trials producing intense side-by-side action with thrilling finales.
Cleopatra, with the experienced Harriet Keane rowing at 5, won the toss and chose the Surrey station, leaving Middlesex to ‘Boudicca’, with Oxford president Maxie Scheske in the 7 seat.
With three-times Boat Race winner Sarah Winckless taking charge in the Umpire’s launch the crews set off in perfect racing conditions, with Cleopatra rating 39 strokes a minute and Boudicca at 38. Past the boathouses Boudicca was already looking the more together crew, settling at 36 strokes a minute and leading Cleopatra by half a length. They used the inside of the Middlesex bend to good advantage, increasing their lead to ¾ length before cox Erin Wysocki-Jones cut off the corner at Craven Cottage, and Cleopatra were able to get back in to the race.
Cleopatra, on Surrey, began to claw back the deficit, despite underrating the leaders, until they reached Hammersmith Bridge where the crews were level. Despite steering wide, Boudicca held their ground, and the crews were still level as the race entered the rougher water off the top of Chiswick Eyot. With the race still level at Chiswick Steps, Cleopatra pushed on hard approaching the Crossing where they led by half a length, but Boudicca found a new rhythm and lengthened out their stroke, still at 30, to regain the lead approaching the bandstand.
There was a full boat length in Boudicca’s favour at Barnes Bridge where the leaders were able to sit up confidently and increase their lead, eventually crossing the line 3 lengths clear, to win a well-fought race.
The first Cambridge women’s crews to trial over the full Boat Race course were ‘Nudge Nudge’, coxed by their president, Esther Momcilovic, and ‘Wink Wink’, with double Blue Caroline Reid in the 5 seat.
Nudge Nudge won the toss and chose the Middlesex station, setting off at 40 strokes a minute against Wink Wink at 41, but it was the Surrey crew who drew ahead past the boathouses, maintaining a high rate at 37 while Nudge Nudge had already settled at 35.
Rowing in a solid style Wink Wink increased their lead to 2/3 length at Barn Elms, rating 34 to Nudge Nudge at 32 but the Cambridge President steered a better line than the Oxford crew on Middlesex had done an hour earlier. Now it was Nudge Nudge who looked the more rhythmic crew, and past Harrods the crews were level once again.
With both crews rating 33 beneath Hammersmith Bridge Nudge Nudge now pushed on hard and gained half a length around the outside of the bend. They maintained the same margin to the top of Chiswick Eyot and then made the move that would determine the outcome of the race. Upping the rate a couple of pips they took a further half a length off the opposition in about ten strokes and past the Crossing they led by a full length.
With both crews at 31 strokes a minute Nudge Nudge gradually extended their lead, but a spirited finish by Wink Wink closed the gap a little as the finish line approached. Nudge Nudge were declared the eventual winners by three lengths, rounding off a day of excellent racing which bodes well for The Newton Women’s Boat Race itself in just over three months’ time.