As a freshman arriving in Cambridge in 1961 the first event for all the top oarsmen was the College Light 4s in which I rowed for Trinity Hall. Then one was plunged into Trial VIIIs with a large number of schoolboy 1st VIII oarsmen. There were so many contenders for 1962 that CUBC ran four Trial VIIIs. The entry requirements were different until UCAS came along and started the steady decline of the intake of schoolboy oarsmen in the middle ‘60s.
I was fortunate enough to be invited back to train in January with the hope of making the Goldie crew which by then had become an accepted part of the squad. I squeezed in at three and we had two winning Blues from 1961 onboard such was the competition. Not until 1965 was there an official race against Isis. But we managed to clock faster times than Isis in the Head of the River Race.
Returning for training for the 1963 crews there was clearly less depth than in the 1962 squad. I do not recall much pre-Christmas, but we returned to Cambridge where the 1963 ice-up had already started. Ely was also iced up, so we cast around to find a stretch at St Neots where hot effluent from a power station kept the water clear of ice.
Logistics in those days were far more difficult than nowadays. We rowed in non-sectioned wooden eights which were transported by lorry. Our coaching launch, Allegro, had also to be taken over to St Neots and the crews were yet to be finalised. Then the colleges returned. After some debate it was decided to allow all College 1st Lent VIIIs to row at St Neots and move the CUBC to Earith which was tidal. That worked until the Neap tides when Earith froze, so we were on the move again to Peterborough where at that time there was another power station. We travelled over every day by bus making it a very long day.
The crew was finally selected but the only Blue was James Viscount Chewton, who stroked as he had done in 1962. I rowed seven seat in that crew. We had little way of judging our speed, but we could start fast and over short distances we were quick. Full courses down on the Tideway, where we trained for the last three weeks, were not good and there was little opposition who could test us over shorter pieces. We seemed susceptible to headwind which on the Tideway means rough water.
A week before the race Toby Tennant, the OUBC President, stood down and was replaced by Miles Morland. This led to some over-confidence. We were coached by CUBC legends, Brian Lloyd, Harry Almond and David Jennens from the 1950/1951 crews who were also very confident of success.
The race took place into a North East wind, giving some rough water from the Fulham bend to Harrods. I recall being delighted that we had a length on Oxford after about ninety seconds and drew away to nearly three-quarters of a length of clear water with the Middlesex bend to come. But we floundered as we hit the rough water and slowed right up to allow Oxford to draw level and pass us by Harrods. The rest of the race was a nightmare and Oxford won as they liked by five lengths. So much for an early lead but lack of a strong rhythm.
Training for the 1964 race was totally different. There were eight returning Blues under the Presidency of Christopher Davey. Two of these were not allowed to row by their college but there was enough talent to boat three good Trial VIIIs which rowed the opposite way to the planned 2021 course.
There was very fierce competition for places. We rowed much shorter distances with much more intensity (totally opposite to current training). I just managed to convince the coaches that at 12 stone 10 lbs (81kgs) I was not too heavy to row at bow. I was to be the heaviest bow ever to row for CUBC but that lasted a mere year.
We were a much more powerful crew than in 1963 with our middle four all weighing just over 14 stone and strong. Christopher Davey was a dynamic stroke and leader despite his light weight. We had tussles with Molesey (Barn Cottage), where we were level for a mile before we stopped as planned (they went on), and Tideway Scullers whom we edged with a final sprint from Hammersmith to Putney on the Ebb.
“We floundered as we hit the rough water and slowed right up to allow Oxford to draw level and pass us by Harrods. The rest of the race was a nightmare. ”
We knew Oxford potentially had a strong squad with four, five, six and stroke seats all returning. But we also heard rumours of them partying and not being very fit. Both crews entered the race believing they could win but Mike Bevan at two seat and I still bore the scars from 1963, so we were less certain than the other six.
Davey won the toss and chose Surrey. The water was good and we had a good warm up. We led off the start and gradually drew away from Oxford who seemed to be shaken by a wash bouncing off the Fulham Wall after about ninety seconds. We kept waiting for Oxford to counter, but we went further and further away to lead by two lengths of clear water approaching Hammersmith. But Davey never let up with spurt after spurt since he was determined to win by more than the five lengths of 1963. He achieved this by our win by six and a half lengths. We peaked on the day and one always remembers wins more than losses.
1962 Goldie* (No official race)