The Oxford Trial Eights event is a dress rehearsal for the Boat Race. Our squad is split into two evenly matched eights and we learn about the unique aspects, which face us on 29 March – the coin toss, the umpire, the spectator launches, the media, the Xchanging representatives and, of course, the race itself.
The crews were christened Bear and Bull. I was in Bear stroked by Ante Kusurin. With weeks of friendly banter behind us both crews were deadly serious about winning on the day. Bull, stroked by Colin Smith, won the toss and chose Surrey. As Middlesex crew, we planned to be slightly ahead at the Mile post and level (or ahead) at the Chiswick Eyot, which marks halfway. This we managed to do and with the final bend in our favour, we pushed our lead to one length of clear water by the finish line.
Winning was bitter-sweet. We were satisfied to have finished first, but it was at the expense of our team mates, our friends. There was no wild celebrating. Instead, as steam poured off both crews and mixed together in the cold air, three cheers “for OUBC” rang out from eighteen rowers as one.
Coach Sean has been absent occasionally following the birth of his son, Frank, who is also known as “Frank the tank”. We haven’t met him yet and so aren’t entirely convinced that he exists. It might be a ploy by Sean to get extra time away from us.
Lately we have been working in pairs and singles to improve our technical skills. Although when the stream is running fast – like for the previous weeks – it becomes more a battle of survival. When the Thames at Wallingford becomes too high to row, we retreat to the Pinsent-Redgrave rowing lake in Caversham. This is where we are training until the Christmas break.