On 2nd December, 265 crews from independent boat clubs, as well as those affiliated with Oxbridge Colleges, raced past the ‘Jesus Flagpole’ as the 87th Fairbairn Cup Race began. Situated on the River Cam and extending between the boathouse of Jesus College Cambridge and Little Bridge, over 4300 metres away, the Fairbairn course proves far from simple. With double apex bends and long stretches of water in which crews are isolated from their coaches, both oarsmen and women, as well as coxes and steers, are tested to their limits. These challenges, although daunting, are perhaps what has ultimately contributed to the growing prestige of the Fairbairn Cup. A women’s event was introduced to the Races in 1976, following which a novice division was established in 1983 due to the pressure of mounting numbers. As the event is run by our sister college, JCBC (ox) has participated in the Fairbairn Cup Races on various occasions. Thus, when we were invited to continue this tradition in 2016, the crew consisting of Iolo Jones, Laurence Bialy, Keir Bowater, Tom de Sousa, Hugo Markland, Michal Dabrówka, Giles Dunseath-Hamilton, John Gardner, and Iona Gilby – in keeping with the Races’ namesake, Steve Fairbairn’s, famous maxim, that “Mileage makes Champions” – decided to journey up to Cambridge for the race.
Although seemingly straightforward, the ninety-mile journey proved nothing if not dramatic. After bus delays left 4 oarsmen stranded in Oxford, a depleted crew limped its way to Cambridge, our cox suffering a concussion en route; only the hope of a familiar chicken-based meal served to keep spirits high. In the face of adversity, we soldiered on in true JCBC style, all nine crew members, alongside our coach, Dan Bowen, making it to the river the following morning. All that now remained was to find the boat. With twenty minutes separating us from our boating time and possible time-penalties associated with missing said deadline, we located, moved, and rigged our 8+, avoiding the familiar temptation to faff. Boating saw the perpetuation of our bad luck, with the ever-reliable cox box refusing to turn on – thanks go to JCBC Cambridge for sportingly lending us a new one. We were now ready to race.
Before the head had even began, Dan’s 1100-word race plan was set into action; a faff – strategically planned on this occasion – serving to increase the distance between us and the crew in front, meant that we had a greater amount of clear water to work with. Each and every oarsman took advantage of this fact, keeping their “hands in the flame!” for the entire duration of the race. After a term of training, there wasn’t a chopper in sight, which, coupled with the intensity that we, as a crew, maintained, enabled us to put down the impressive time of 15:18.6. Such a performance earned us 16th position out of a total of 62 entries in our division, the significance of which can be illustrated through appeal to our eventual dominance over Oxford’s Nephys boat, which finished 17th overall.
Special thanks go to coach Dan Bowen, whose continued efforts facilitated this result, alongside congratulations for his division-winning performance with Legends BC. Such congratulations should also be extended to every member of the Fairbairn’s crew whom pulled together and put down a stellar performance. After all, we’re all in the same boat.