The Boat Race

A River Runs through It…London, that is.

The Boat Race is an annual rowing race between the elite universities, Oxford and Cambridge, rowed between competing eights along a 4.2 mile stretch of the Thames River.   The first race took place in 1829, and the event has been held annually since 1856, except during the two world wars.  No one needs to ask which boat race…The Boat Race is a popular tradition with nearly a quarter of a million spectators lining the river banks every year.  As of 2012, Cambridge has won the race 81 times and Oxford 76 times, with one dead heat.

I’m sure most everyone is aware of the calamitous events of April 7th.  Cambridge University won the most controversial boat race in history after the contest was halted when a man swam across the Thames.  This anti-elitist protester brought the race to a halt for the first time in 11 years, claiming he deliberately swam in front of the two boat crews.  After the restart halfway along the course, further drama unfolded when an oar snapped on board the Oxford boat, allowing Cambridge to surge to victory.  Then, in a final twist, an exhausted Oxford rower collapsed after the finish.

Certainly such drama could not repeated?  And yet….

We witnessed an even greater crew calamity this past weekend at Katie’s first race on the Lea River in North London.  Despite inexperience, her four-man crew was psyched and ready for the challenge.

The weather literally set the stage and seemed to symbolize the pending disaster.  Just as Katie and her team slid their boat into the river, the sun disappeared and a wild wind whipped up.  Dark clouds quickly filled the sky as driving rain began to pelt us sideways, driven by the mighty gusts of wind.  I think the temperature dropped about 15 degrees in 15 minutes.  We watched as various rowers struggled against these increasingly inclement elements.  Then suddenly, the natural flow of racers came to a halt.

Where was Katie’s boat?  We headed up river toward the start line and overheard the loud squawk of a walkie-talkie on a race organizer:  “The American team has hit a boat!  There is a delay.  We are restarting the race!”

Apparently, at the start line, Katie’s boat crashed into the opposing team, earning them an official warning.  They had to struggle to reposition themselves,  rowing against the current and managing the wind that was becoming a significant factor in the race.  We caught a glimpse of her boat, perpendicular to the start line, facing the river sideways.  In this precarious position, the boat almost capsized!  This did not bode well for the still pending race.

Finally, the boat race began.  Against all odds, they were off to a good start.

Within minutes, the lead rower “caught a crab”, meaning her oar got pulled under the water and stuck within the current of the boat.  Now down to three able bodies, the girls’ soldiered on.  Then, the lead rower forcefully freed her oar out from under the boat and hit Katie’s oar, destroying her rhythm and shoving her oar under.  Alas, another “crab was caught”, to use the lingo.

Just as Katie freed her oar, the girl behind her literally came undone.  Her seat slid off the track, forcing her to collapse onto the floor of the boat!

The boat veered off course, nearly crashing into the unsuspecting recreational boats parked along the river.  Needless to say, they were disqualified.

This was not the most auspicious beginning to the season, but with this behind them, they can only improve.  To their credit, the girls’ egos were battered but their spirits were not broken.

They will be competing back on the river this weekend…

…an errant swimmer might be a welcome diversion!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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