The Boat Race is an annual rowing contest between the Oxford University Boat Club and the Cambridge University Boat Club that takes place close to Easter.
It’s one of the few free sporting events in London and therefore one of the most popular on the calendar.
The men first race was in 1829 and the event has been held annually since 1856, except during the First and Second World Wars, which makes it one of the world’s longest running sports events.
The women race is much more recent. Indeed, the fist race was in 1927 and became an annual event from the mid-1960’s.
Nowadays, the course covers a 4.2-mile (6.8 km) stretch of the Thames in West London, from Putney to Mortlake.
It’s rowed upstream, but is timed to start on the incoming flood tide so that the crews are rowing with the fastest possible current.
The clubs’ presidents toss a coin (the 1829 sovereign) before the race for the right to choose which side of the river they will row on: their decision is based on the day’s weather conditions.
Both crews are composed of 8 rowers with a cox steering. Female rowers are permitted in the men’s boat race but the reverse is not true.
Members of both teams are traditionally known as “Blues” and each boat as a “Blue Boat”, with Cambridge in light blue and Oxford dark blue.
Hugh Laurie took part of the Boat Race with Cambridge in 1980.
As of 2015, Cambridge Men team has won the race 81 times and Oxford 79 times.
Regarding the Women team, Cambridge is also leading and has won the race 41 times and Oxford 29 times.
The Boat Race 2015
This year was the first time that the Women Boat Race and the Men Boat Race took place on the same day. The Women race was scheduled at 4:50pm and the Men race at 5:50pm.
It was decided that way in order to promote the Women race that doesn’t have the same prestige than the Men race.
BBC has signed a contract to broadcast both races until 2021, which will hopefully give to the Women race the same audience than the Men race which is followed by 7 million viewers in UK and tens of millions around the world.
Last year, I saw the race on TV and I remember that it was a rainy day.
This year, as the weather was nice, I decided to go. I went by myself because I didn’t find any friend that was enthusiastic about seeing the race. But I wasn’t alone.. I was with more than 250,000 people that join in the celebrations every year.
You don’t need to arrive long in advance to find a good spot. I only arrived 10 minutes before the start of the Women race and was able to find one easily. But if you go with a bunch of friends, you might want to come earlier in order to enjoy the day and the festival-like atmosphere. In that case, I strongly suggest to bring your own alcohol and food as all the pubs and food trucks on the way of the race are overcrowded from around 12 noon.
How to find a good place for the race?
You might have other criteria but for me, a good place must filled in 3 criteria:
-it must be in the sun. In the late afternoon, it’s the north bank which is sunny.
-it must not be too near from the water’s edge. First, because as the tide goes up, the police might ask you to move for safety reason. Second, because the 2 boats are followed by a procession of other vessels that creates quite big waves. I thought that I was safe, seated 5 or 6 steps from the water but I finally finished with a soaked foot. How is it possible that only one of my feet got wet? Well, I did the “technique of the bird” and sacrified one of my feet by standing on it in order to save the second one.
However, like most sport events, you will never have the perfect view and won’t be able to follow the whole race.
The place I found was located a few hundred meters after the start of the race. It wasn’t an official place as I had to jump a barrier to reach it. But I had to improvise as I arrived quite late.
It happened to be a good spot as I saw Oxford overtaking Cambridge.
And by the way, it’s Oxford who won the 2 races.
PS: If you see a race about 30 minutes after the Women race but nobody around you seem to be excited about it, it’s because it’s not the Men race that is ahead schedule but it’s the reserve race.