Lucy Cavendish College Boat Club storming down the CamTimur Rakhimov with permission for Varsity

So far this term, Cambridge has seen two major races for college rowing on the Cam: Winter Head to Head and Newnham Head. A wide range of colleges took up their oars in hopes of getting some early victories and the potential to win engraved tankards and medals.

Winter Head to Head: 27 January

Winter Head to Head is a uniquely designed race. It has two stages, both of which are 2km in distance. The first time trial saw crews speed downstream with both the current and wind providing extremely quick conditions. After finishing, crews had a short 15-minute window in which to recover before doing it all again in reverse. This second leg, however, saw the teams battle against brutal conditions with the strong headwinds causing particular problems. The winning crews were those who had the best combined times for both these races: a real test that combined composure, resilience and technical skill.

After the first leg the men’s first VIII division was a tight race with Lady Margaret Boat Club (St John’s College) having a narrow 3-second lead over Selwyn and another small gap of the same size to Downing, leaving all three crews in need of a strong second leg to seal the victory. Lady Margaret, however, left both Selwyn and Downing behind in the second leg with a strong margin of victory of around 20 seconds to both crews. In the final result, the top three colleges were Lady Margaret, Selwyn and then Downing. The only other crew to finish within a minute of the race winners was Jesus.

In the women’s VIII division, Jesus continued to hold its dominant position as fastest crew on the river. Clare managed to stay within ten seconds of Jesus in the first leg of the race; however, they were not able to pull back any time in the second half, with Jesus gaining yet another 15 seconds. Behind Jesus and Clare was a tight competition for third with three crews finishing within one second of each other. After the first leg, Trinity Hall sat with a slender one second lead over Trinity and a similar gap to Homerton. The second leg brought significant change as Homerton dug deep to beat both Trinity Hall and Trinity overall by an impressively narrow 2 millisecond and 6 milliseconds margins.

Newnham Head: 3 February

This was a simple 2km time trial race, but the atmosphere made this one of the best races I have attended over my year and a half rowing. From the fun award ceremony held at Newnham bar to the marshals who were enthusiastically supporting all the crews out for the race. The early divisions faced similarly strong wind conditions to Winter Head to Head with a forceful wind hitting the boats as they turned onto the reach. Fortunately for those who raced in the mid-afternoon, the wind dropped significantly providing them with a serious advantage over their earlier competition.


Mountain View

A Fairbairns retrospective

Within the men’s VIII division at the top end, Downing, Selwyn, Magdalene and Caius set off in morning divisions with the heavy winds. Out of these crews Selwyn clocked in with the quickest time by four seconds over Magdalene. Downing and Fitzwilliam finished a further six seconds behind. Notably Caius raced with time only and their recorded finish was 35 seconds slower than Selwyn, yet Varsity have been reliably informed that their actual time was around 30 seconds quicker, leaving people waiting for the next race to see how they perform. Dropping winds, however, brought a notable speed increase for the last two divisions and an advantage for these crews with Lady Margaret dominating the afternoon finishing 30 seconds ahead of Selwyn. Similarly Emmanuel and Trinity Hall were able to capitalise and put in excellent times to come second and third overall.

The women’s VIII division saw both Clare and Caius row in the early divisions taking joint top positions with a reasonable lead back to Homerton 14 seconds behind. The afternoon, however, brought an impressive performance from St Catharine’s who ended up winning the competition with a lead of 13 seconds. Emmanuel’s second VIII also put in a strong performance as they ended up 26 seconds behind St Catharine’s to take joint top of the second division with Homerton. The race saw a number of notable absences among the top women’s crews with Newnham organising the race, and both Emmanuel and Jesus absent from racing.

The next and final race before bumps will be Pembroke regatta on 17 February, assuming that the heavy rain and flooded river do not result in the race having to be called off for safety reasons. This race will see crews compete in a side-by-side knock out tournament across a 1100m course.