It was a party atmosphere that dominated the last afternoon of Summer Eights, as thousands of onlookers basked in the surprisingly summery weather to cheer on the college crews as they battled on the river.
Rowing was one draw for the punters, but another was the seemingly never-ending supply of booze and ice cream being peddled. This was particularly attractive for those of us who have to check Wikipedia to brush up on terms like “stroke”, “bump” or “bungline” which seemed to be thrown around wantonly just to confuse the uninitiated.
For yet other fans, the chance of seeing some athletic young men in stretchy shorts seemed the primary focus. Fresher Alice Lewin-Smith said, misty-eyed, “I love watching the men’s biceps – sorry – boats, definitely the boats,” as the Men’s Division Two sailed past.
For those who were actually interested in racing there was excitement enough on the river. In Women’s Division 3, Wadham II capped an impressive march from 4th to finish the regatta at thirteenth spot in Div. 2, leapfrogging crews from Queen’s and Teddy Hall in the process.
Further down, the news was a little less encouraging as both St Peter’s I and Christ Church II finished miserable weeks with an extra spoon for the JCR kitchen, having been bumped on each successive day.
On the men’s side, there were two Div. 3 crews up for the honour of a blade. Coming out of what people in the know were calling “The Gut” – which I can only assume is a particular bend in the river, the up-and-coming University II crew zeroed in on the St Antony’s boat ahead of them – eventually Antony’s conceded to earn the Univ rowers what has to be one of the most impractical sporting trophies ever conceived.
Further up the division, Corpus Christi I claimed a blade of their own, at the expense of Queen’s I, who followed St Peter’s and Christ Church women in adding a spoon to their collection.
There was a little drama at the top of Women’s Div II as Worcester I were denied a coveted blade after the Wolfson crew they were pursuing bumped Osler House I (no, me neither) before they could catch up. Osler House were presented with a spoon of their own and sent on their way.
Downriver, Queen’s came past the gut fighting hard against a surging Wadham boat. They held them off almost as far as the boathouses but were eventually forced to concede and accept a return to the top of Div. 3.
The final men’s Div. 2 race saw two boats after blades – Brasenose bumped LMH for their set, but the Mansfield crew further down weren’t able to catch the Exeter boat ahead of them, in spite of a valiant effort.
Now we came to the business end of the racing. In Women’s Div. 1, St Johns maintained their spot at the head of the river, with a commanding performance to hold off Wadham’s charge to the top of the table. For Hertford I a bad week ended in the worst possible fashion as they suffered a fourth successive bump by Univ.
Excitement on the bank reached fever pitch as the men’s crews took to the water. Pembroke had held the head of the river since the end of Wednesday but the Christ Church boat had been making steady progress up the table all week.
As the crews sailed past the Christ Church boathouse there was possibly half a length in it but Pembroke looked to be in trouble. In the end there simply wasn’t enough river for the Christ Church charge to take hold, as Pembroke held the head of the river by what the people in the know called “a canvas”. What this term means is beyond me but I’m assured it means the racing was exciting.
All that was left was for Pembroke to start blaring out a familiar playlist of Queen and Sting, and for the Pimm’s-addled crowd to shakily make their way back down the banks.
Pembroke’s hold at the head of the river now spreads from Torpids to Summer Eights. It looks like it will take a crew of some talent to oust them.