Summer VIIIs: Part II
The fateful days arrived on May 24-27!
DAY 1: Oriel M1 was ahead of us, and we were ahead of Keble M1. Could Christ Church bump Oriel before Keble’s attempt to bump us? That was the real question. There we were on the bunglines, silently waiting for the canon to signal the start of the race.
AND THERE IT WAS! And we were off!
The waters were increasingly choppy as we closed in on Oriel M1. When we exited the Gut, I started to lose sight of them as we inched ever closer. They were eclipsed by the broad shoulders of my rowers (I’m not kidding).
Luckily, my bowman, Colin, was totally on it. As soon as we had overlap on Oriel M1’s boat, while STILL ROWING, he reached out his hand and gave them TWO hearty smacks!
That was it, we were to start in the first position of Division I for the following days.
Keble M1 was charging towards us, but realized at the last minute that we had bumped out. This meant they had to overtake our boats on the outside, but for whatever reason the Keble M1 cox thought it would be a good idea to undertake us. The Keble M1 cox sent the boat into the bank amongst the trees. HAHA! They had to stop and restart all over again, and only narrowly escaped being caught by Pembroke M1!
But, their drama aside, it was a good day for Christ Church M1!
DAY 2: Christ Church M1 was in first position, with Oriel M1 and Keble M1 behind us, respectively.
Never in the history of ChCh would I think I would cheer for Oriel M1, but we all hoped Oriel M1 could stay away from Keble M1. Alas, that was not to be. Keble M1 caught up with Oriel M1 fairly close to the same point we had bumped Oriel the day before. Our boat had a rather uneventful time, rowing over the entire course.
DAY 3: It was D-DAY now. What would happen?! Christ Church was yet again in first position, but now Keble M1 was in second position with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
There was 1200m between us and victory.
As it turned out, our base paces were similar, but Keble M1 had to make up about 3 boat lengths over the entire course. They went for a push at the very beginning, but we absorbed it without allowing them to come closer than 1/2 boat length away.
That was what it was like the entire course: they would try to make a move, but couldn’t sustain the hard pushes for very long, and we would yet again escape their grasp, widening the distance again. It wasn’t comfortable, my rowers couldn’t “just relax”, but we got into our rhythm and were able to sustain it to the finish.
DAY 4: Just one more row, one more row to determine who would have Headship this year.
So many thoughts raced through my mind, and I recalled what some people had said in the weeks leading up to Summer VIIIs:
Pembroke rower: “Just don’t let Keble get it.”
Boatman: “If you lose to Keble today, everyone is going to hate you.” Other boatman: “If you win today, you’re going to be a very popular VIIIs Headship crew….well, at least for the moment.”
It was a tense day. You would think with such an elite group of rowers we would have thought it was a done deal. But, that just wasn’t the case. Summer VIIIs is a fickle lover: it just takes one error and blades or Headship slips out of your grasp.
One of my rowers even admitted “I never thought I would be so nervous over a f****** college boat race.”
We arrived to our bungline where Rob, our boatman, waited to anchor us to the bank until the start gun.
All was quiet.
Then, once again the familiar *BANG* and we were off again!
This time Keble M1 conservatively rowed without trying for a quick attack off the start. I had a difficult decision to make as we rowed into the Gut, this windy stretch of the river: I could either take a conservative line and risk losing meters to Keble, or I could take an aggressive line but risk hitting the bank.
In fact, this had been a problem for the coxswain in 2013: they were on for Headship but not only let Pembroke M1 get away, they were also bumped by Oriel M1 because the cox had taken too aggressive a line and hit the bank.
But, I believed in my crew, and I believed I could take the tightest line possible – so I did. I gently moved to rudder towards bow side, and we shot down Greenbacks, hugging it all the way. We were so close in fact that my 2-seat’s blade might have trimmed some tree branches along the way (sorry, John!).
We arrived at Univ raft and I stated “400 meters! 400 meters to the finish line!”
Univ raft and Boathouse Island EXPLODED into cheers as we rowed past, ecstatic to see Christ Church M1 holding off Keble M1 with 2 boats lengths of clear water between us. I had never heard so many cheers for Christ Church in my entire boat club career.
Then, we were rowing to the end of Boathouse Island! “250 meters! 250 meters!” I shouted.
I gave the final call “Lift!” It was my signal to the rowers to give me some badass ROCKET POWER for the last stretch. I could see the Finish Clacker at the end of the race.
Lock on target!
Keble M1 must have wanted to make their move then as well because they gave a final big push to bump us, but it was too late. Christ Church M1’s boat flew past the finish line. I looked back to see the clacker go down, and announced “HEADSHIP IS OURS!”
We exploded into cheers before I heard the klaxon sound, signaling something was wrong further downstream that required the race to stop. But, that didn’t matter. We were safe. We had won! We exchanged the traditional “three cheers” with Keble M1, and then with Oriel M1 and Pembroke M1 before we landed to a waiting crowd of very happy Housemen and Housewomen.
Later that night we walked into the Dining Hall at dinnertime to a standing ovation. The night was capped off with M1 jumping over a burning wooden boat in Christ Church Meadows, a long-standing tradition for the crew that wins Headship.
It was difficult to grasp fully the gravitas of situation, one that left so many people with such joy and love, and something I hope future generations will be inspired by. At the end of the day, it is not just about winning, but the love of a sport so dear, so historic, so iconic to Christ Church. Eight men who gave all of themselves, paddling on the historic Tamesis River.
The Jedis had won the day!