As novices we were allowed out only in the clinker VIIIs which were easy to balance but fiendishly heavy, there was never any question of throwing the boat to “Heads”, we held it at waists and scrambled under. The second clinker was so old and twisted that stroke could have his blade flat on the water at the same time as bow. We called it “The banana boat”. What a joy and privilege it was to graduate to a plywood shell.
After our race on the Saturday of Summer VIIIs we were gently paddling back to the boathouse when our bow rigger caught in the ditto ditto of a Teddy Hall VIII, ripping their sax board away from the shell. They rapidly began to sink but foolishly instead of getting everyone to leap out and let the boat float, their cox tried to row it ashore. Within a minute the middle of the boat filled with water and rowers went down while the flotation bladders in the bows and stern stayed up. With a sickening submarine crunch, the boat broke its back, spilling, oarsmen and oars all over the Isis. All in front of thousands of spectators. Now that was theatre!!!
We rowed the boat down to Abingdon where we trained with Abingdon school. We went through Sandford lock which is the second deepest lock on the river. As the water level dropped and the dank concrete walls towered above us, knowing there was only quarter of an inch of plywood between us and a watery death was not reassuring.
Coming back from Abingdon, just above Sandford lock we encountered a very territorial swan who attacked us from the rear. I don’t think we ever did a start quite as fast again.
The rowing master at Abingdon – Mr Butt (funny how names like that stick out – oh ho ho ho) was also a physicist. He reckoned that the perfect shaped oar would be a semi circular spoon (the least spillage off the sides) with a deep scoop. The technology of the time meant he had to make do with massive assymetrical rounded blades, but by golly the Abingdon boys really shifted their boat using them. We used to row eight 500m sprints of an afternoon and we never came anywhere near catching them once.
Featured image St Peter’s College (New Inn Hall) First VIII 1967