Boat Race: The Reserves Race

Sunday 25th April 2021l - Ely, Cambridgeshire

4 minute read
Words Tom Ransley
Photography Benedict Tufnell
Published 29.04.21

If Osiris and Isis arrived at Ely to exact revenge on behalf of Oxford’s defeated Blue boats, then their ambition went unfulfilled. On Sunday 25th April 2021 the reserve crews of Cambridge University Boat Club defended their home water and romped to a combined thirteen length victory against their dark blue rivals. For those competing, the outcome was comprehensive and the exchange brutal.

Photo Cambridge romp away to successive victories
Credit Benedict Tufnell

By comparison to the Boat Race held three weeks prior, the affair was without fanfare. The BBC and their pyrotechnic roadies were not present, nor Claire Balding and a boat bay of seventies disco lights. It was a day reserved for the rowers and the rowing officiandos lining the banks.

Photo A day reserved for the rowers and the rowing officiandos lining the banks.
Credit Benedict Tufnell

A strong headwind made for tough racing conditions. It largely blew straight down the course but with some crosswind gusts. The racing stations were decided by late-morning well ahead of the scheduled start times of five o’clock in the evening for the men and six o’clock for the women. An unceremonious coin toss hastily dispatched by Umpire Tony Reynolds saw Goldie choose the side closest to the road. Osiris, who also selected the road station, won their coin toss.

The first of the day’s encounters between the two universities was between the spare pairs. Perhaps it was an early warning for Oxford as their women’s spare pair capsized within five strokes of the start. All was not lost as the Oxford spare men’s pair recorded the sole victory of the day.

Next up was the men’s reserve race who were delayed by fifteen minutes owing to a stranded pleasure cruiser that had broken down in the middle of the racecourse. The Environment Agency helped the hapless cruiser and the 56th men’s reserve race got underway.

Goldie v Isis

For those who enjoy clashing, patience was not required. Isis veered towards Goldie from the first stroke and by stroke seven their bowside blades overlapped with those of the Cambridge strokesiders. This instigated a chorus of warnings by Umpire Tony Reynolds.

Photo View from the umpires launch
Credit Benedict Tufnell

Isis came off worse and dropped a length and half – they held the deficit for a couple of kilometres before Goldie pulled further ahead. By the finish line, Goldie had dispensed with Isis by a comfortable margin of six lengths.

Photo Goldie win by six lengths
Credit Benedict Tufnell

The win was especially sweet for James Bernard who had overcome a torn meniscus in his left knee to reach the start line. After surgery in September, James spent the early season rehabbing. He said: “It’s been a year filled with adversity but it’s great to be a part of the clean sweep.”  

Bernard attributes Goldie’s faultless performance to the “phenomenal” momentum his crew built in the three-week block prior to racing. Despite tough conditions, Goldie attacked the whole way down the track leaving no opportunity for Isis to get back on terms.

Photo OUBC reserve boat “Isis”
Credit Benedict Tufnell

It was a performance James believes is reflective of the “great coaching” and “support” that his crew received from their coach Jordan Stanley and CUBC Head Coach Rob Baker.

Blondie v Osiris

The 49th women’s reserve race was umpired by former dark blue strokeman Matt Smith. Less than ninety seconds after he dropped his flag to start the race, Osiris had haemorrhaged seven seats to Blondie. Twenty strokes later and the light blues had broken clear.

Photo CUBC women’s reserve boat “Blondie”
Credit Benedict Tufnell

Osiris’ bowwoman Emma Lepinay, who started rowing in her first year at Oxford in 2017, was disappointed to see the Cambridge cox pull alongside so early in the race: “It is not a position you want to be in, but never did I think we’ve lost it. The focus was to get back on terms with Cambridge.”

Blondie was relentless. Cambridge’s bowwoman Catherine King said: “We got ahead reasonably quickly but we wanted to step away and increase the margin.” Catherine believes their “solid rhythm” came from the “confidence and trust” each woman had in her teammates. In the five seat for Cambridge was Gemma King who took nothing for granted as her crew extended their lead throughout the race: “until we crossed the line nothing was certain”.

Photo Blondie celebrate their win over Osiris
Credit Benedict Tufnell

By the finish Blondie had gone one better than Goldie by putting seven lengths into their dark blue rivals Osiris.

Photo OUWBC reserve boat Osiris
Credit Benedict Tufnell

Watching from the bank was Anja Zehfuss who rowed in the two-seat of Oxford women’s blue boat – she was disappointed to see her squad suffer a second loss and asked if next year’s Boat Race location has been decided. Plans are afoot but there have been no official announcements. Wherever the race is held, Oxford will be eager to halt Cambridge’s run of clean sweep victories since 2018.