Boats! Beefcakes! Boffo times by the Thames! Jonny Ensall coxes our oarsome lowdown on the annual battle of the paddles.
What the hell is it?
A momentous battle that has spanned the decades. A duel steeped in tradition. A clash of oars that can be heard around the world…Okay, it’s two sets of unfeasibly proportioned humans rowing up the Thames as fast as they bally well can. But the allure of this scull-clash between Oxford and Cambridge goes way beyond quaint varsity tradition. It is, for example, an excellent excuse to drink beside the Thames, as well as a premium opportunity to wear your favourite straw hat (if that sort of thing floats your boater). Also good for a laugh: shout ‘Sebastian’ very loudly, and watch a dozen sallow-faced undergrads turn around at any given point along the riverbank.
Why should I care?
Because, like catching ‘Chariots of Fire’ on TV, it’s easily possible to get swept up in the chaps’ competitive spirit. Just don’t get so excited you end up in the river. The last rascal who disrupted the Boat Race, in 2012, almost got deported. Plus, have you seen the Thames? Swimming in it is only advised if you’re wearing a full-body condom. The rest of us will be cheering on an arbitrarily decided-upon ‘home’ team. Come on you blues! (They’re both blue, so this works either way.)
Who are those three men in a boat?
They’re part of 2008’s victorious Oxford crew. A boat comprises eight guys, all of whom look like underwear models – plus one who looks like Janette Krankie, whose job as cox is to steer and, seemingly, shout the word ‘fuck’ a lot on live TV. Then there’s the 300,000 spectators.You might hear people talking about ‘Isis’, but that’s the name of Oxford’s second boat ñ Islamic State isn’t fielding a crew this year.
When is it Pimm’s o’clock?
The women’s race starts at 4.50pm and the men’s at 5.50pm on Saturday April 11, making this the first year that both races happen on the same day. Get down to the Duke’s Head pub in Putney nice and early to get your place in the Coxswain Dining Room, which overlooks the start line.
Where’s good for a gander?
The towpath along Putney embankment provides a good view of the four-and-a-quartermile course, which stretches between Putney and Mortlake. Though, if you’d like to be significantly less jostled you can watch it on screen in nearby Bishop’s Park or Furnival Gardens.
Any top tips?
Mind the waves! The boats themselves don’t produce much wake, but the flotilla of safety and TV vessels behind them bloody does. Standing too close to the water will get you a ruddy good soaking – and the chaps will give you a ribbing you won’t forget till Michaelmas!
The Boat Race takes place this Saturday April 11.