Boat Race 2020: Cambridge Trial Eights

London, UK

2 minute read
Words & Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 17.12.19

Cambridge University’s men’s and women’s squads raced internally in matched eights on Monday afternoon on the Tideway in a long-time Boat Race tradition known as Trial Eights. The racing represents a full dress rehearsal of the Boat Race which will take place on March 29 next year. 


Under calm weather conditions, albeit with rapidly fading daylight, the women took to the water first to race the full distance from Putney to Mortlake. 

The two Cambridge women’s crews were named Actin and Myosin, after muscle fibres in the human body. Myosin raced in black and Actin in white, saving the traditional Light Blue kit for Boat Race day. The choice of names was said to be a nod to the large number of medics and biologists within the squad.

CUWBC President Larkin Sayre, racing in Myosin, lost the coin toss to select stations and Actin chose to race on the Surrey station.

Following a clean start the two crews kept well apart, giving umpire Judith Packer an easy job from the outset. Actin took a very slight lead by the Black Buoy a minute into the race, gradually extending the lead to several lengths as they passed under Hammersmith Bridge.

By Barnes Railway Bridge, with only minutes left, Actin had extended their lead to four lengths and looked to be in a commanding and comfortable position. In the final approach to the finish line, just before Chiswick Bridge, Myosin put in a strong push and closed the gap down. However Actin were able to maintain control in the final sprint to record a 2 length verdict at the finish line. 

The men’s race went next, on a tide strongly equivalent to the one that they will race on Boat Race Day. This happened to fall at 15:45. With short, December daylight hours, it meant the crews required lights on their boats as they raced in near dark.

Conditions remained similar to those of the women’s race an hour earlier. The crew names chosen were Electric and Boogaloo. Boogaloo tossed for stations, won, and chose to race on the Surrey Station.

Trial Eights presents one of the few opportunities for the squads to understand how an umpire is likely to take charge of the crews on race day, and as such Sarah Winckless – who had umpired the OUBC Trial Eights Race the previous week and will also umpire the Men’s Boat Race in 2020 – oversaw the race on Monday.

After a fast start, both crews were still level by the Black Buoy and looked to be well matched. By the Milepost, Electric had crept out to a 1/4 length lead, while receiving multiple warnings for steering from Winckless.

Narrowly avoiding a clash with each other, as well as an errant cruiser, Winckless warned both crews and the coxes responded, returning to their stations.

As Hammersmith Bridge came into sight Boogaloo knew they had the advantage of the long Surrey bend and were the first crew under the bridge, extending their lead to 3/4 length at St Paul’s School, and to a length of clear water as they passed Chiswick RNLI station.

Winckless was again kept busy in the final stages as Electric looked to take advantage of the Middlesex bend around Barnes Bridge, closing up the gap. Electric sprinted for home first, forcing Boogaloo to respond in order to maintain their lead. After an excited charge for the line, Boogaloo crossed first a length ahead of their teammates in Electric. 

The squads will now return to Cambridge for their final training sessions before a short break over Christmas followed by an intensive training camp in January. 

The 2020 Boat Races will take place on Sunday 29th March 2020 with the women’s boat race at 3.44pm and the men’s at 4.44pm.