This year’s Regatta coincided with the tail end of Storm Eunice, which caused a strong headwind on the River CamRebecca Tyson

College rowing crews were left freezing and exhausted by what witnesses say was a “disorganised” Pembroke Regatta on Saturday (19/02).

Several crews reported symptoms of hypothermia and general exhaustion as a result of severe delays to racing throughout the day. The organisers, Pembroke College Boat Club (PCBC), have since confirmed two cases of hypothermia.

Many rowers were left dangerously isolated in their boats on the River Cam as a consequence of inaccurate communication regarding delays and inadequate marshalling, allowing for the cold weather to take effect. Temperatures reached lows of two-degrees centigrade on the day.

The regatta was scheduled to run from 8am to 4.30pm on Saturday, with a total of 125 crews in eighteen divisions completing their respective races. However, proceedings were called off at 2pm due to hostile weather conditions, together with delays that, at times, reached upwards of two hours.

Since the event, many rowers have voiced their opinions on Facebook page “Rowbridge”.

One said: “[The Regatta] should have been cancelled to begin with because of the conditions which inevitably helped chaos + delays. [...] The red flags that have gone up are all indicators of what this STORM can actually do”. A red flag, which signals that boats should not occupy the river, was published on PCBC’s website on Friday (18/2), the day before the event.

Another added: “In the days preceding Pembroke Regatta, I walked around the [River] Cam a fair bit [...] and I wanted to see the weather. Granted, the wind today [Saturday, 19/02] was nowhere near as bad as it has been but after racing myself I am still adamant that it shouldn’t have gone ahead”.

One recounted their experience in full: “My crew left our boathouse later than initially planned because the race organisers had fortunately made us aware of the delays beforehand. We still ended up sitting still by the reach for the better part of 3 hours before eventually being allowed to row through the baits. As I’m sure was the case in the other boats who were waiting with us, in that time our legs and arms had completely seized up, making RACING genuinely […] unsafe”.

Additionally, multiple crew captains expressed their concerns in a captains’ group chat. The first of several messages read: “It’s looking really bad out there @pembroke, are you considering calling off the other divisions at all?” This was closely followed by another captain affirming: “There’s been a lot of hypothermia and early onset hypothermia in the W2 div[ision]”.

Speaking to rowers who attended the event, Varsity was told that “it was obvious as soon as you got there that they [the organisers] were four divisions behind and disorganised.

No one got a warmup at all. Normally, you row down [the river] and that’s your warmup and then you sit for 10-15 minutes and finally race. But with a two-hour delay, this isn’t possible.”

“They [PCBC] didn’t want to admit that they had a massive problem,” one rower added, going on to reveal how the Peterhouse W2 boat had little choice but to scratch on the start line before their scheduled race against Downing W2 because of two rowers suffering from symptoms of hypothermia.

In a statement to Varsity, PCBC captain Istvan Bence Kovacs spoke on behalf of the club: “Our decision to run the regatta came after consultation with CUCBC (Cambridge University Combined Boat Clubs, who are in charge of regulating college rowing on the Cam). Storm Eunice passed on the 18th [of February], as shown with historical wind data. We believed that these conditions would be good to host the regatta, which agreed with official communication from CUCBC.”


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On the matter of event preparation, he continued: “Our risk assessment includes precautions for the events that have gone down, and part of that is first aid cover being available at the event, which this year was provided by St. John’s Ambulance.

“Other precautions included warning all captains of boat clubs about the weather forecast (low temperatures, fair wind, and possibility of rain around midday), and ask[ing] all crews to bring an adequate amount of layers.”

Reflecting on the event, he said: “We are conducting an internal review on how crew apparel and weather forecast could be handled better, however, in line with British Rowing guidance, it is ultimately the racing crew’s responsibility to have appropriate wear for the amount of time that they are due to spend on water. Crews progressing through the regatta would need to spend 3-4h[ours] on water.”

PCBC’s Kovacs concluded his statement by saying: “To reiterate, we are very sorry for the events that have transpired, and exceptionally sorry to the people with hypothermia. We are conducting an internal review to make sure next year we can put on a safer regatta.”

Lent Bumps is the next event on CUCBC’s race calendar, with the Getting-on Race beginning this Friday (25/02) and the racing proper running from Tuesday 1st to Saturday 5th March.