I feel immensely privileged to have served as Captain of Boats, especially during what has proved another incredibly successful year for DCBC.
Our squad captains, Izzy and Charlie, both did a fantastic job of bringing the whole club together and encouraging each crew and individual rower to push themselves to reach their potential. Remarkable role models, they both juggled second year medicine with captaining and rowing in the first boat, and always led from the front. My huge thanks also goes to our Director of Rowing, Ian Watson, who every year manages to turn complete novices into Headship-winning rowers and imbues everyone at the club with a love of competition and of the sport as a whole. The hard work put in this year by Ian, our captains and all of our athletes is reflected in some great race results and the welcoming, supportive and close-knit community that DCBC represents.
Both the men’s and the women’s squads started Michaelmas 2015 with plenty of returners from the previous year, and these numbers were buoyed by our biggest novice recruitment drives in recent years. W1 and M1 saw a double victory at the start of the term with wins at Autumn Head. Whilst M1 focused on training up rowers in an VIII, W1 formed a IV+ and targeted Uni IVs at the end of October.
I’m sure that I will always remember Uni IVs 2015 as being one of my hardest-won victories, as the week comprised a series of closely-fought races with more than its fair share of mishaps. The staggered starts and finishes of Uni IVs mean you can never really be certain of having a lead, and our final against LMBC was particularly tense. When we came through the Plough, our legs already on fire, our coach Ian shouted that we were only a quarter of a length up and had really to make a move. Those next three minutes were gruesome, to say the least! While none of our races had been perfect performances by any stretch of the imagination, I’d like to think we exhibited the grit and determined attitude that Downing rowers pride themselves on, and that it was this which brought us the win.
We finished the term with some fantastic results in the Fairbairn Cup, especially for our senior boats. M1’s hard work all term paid off, as they placed as the fastest Cambridge college, though pipped to the top spot by Pembroke, Oxford. W1, meanwhile, came second in both the VIII and the IV+. Though gutted to have missed out on winning the IV+ by just 1.4 seconds, we were pleased to have been able to jump straight from one boat to another and still pull off a strong second race.
Then in January, a DCBC contingent of 28 rowers and 4 coxes headed to fairer climes for our annual training camp, held again this year in Seville. Overall it was an invaluable opportunity for the club, both in terms of training and club bonding. We spent the week rowing in mixed boats, doing battle paddling, technical sessions and race pieces, as well as starting to form top VIIIs. The wide expanses of the Guadalquivir made a welcome change to the crowded and narrow Cam, as we were able to race 3 VIIIs side by side, as well as give the novices an introduction to rowing in small boats. We flew home with Ian’s seal of approval that it had been our most successful training camp in recent years, and that praise rang true a few weeks later when we qualified a W2 in the Lent Bumps for the first time since 2013.
Racing kicked off the first weekend of Lent term with a double win for W1 and M1 at the Winter Head to Head. After that, things became significantly more challenging when a series of storms created some rather unpleasant weather conditions. Thwarted by 50mph winds, we turned our attention instead to land training. That grit clearly paid off, since a few weeks later at Pembroke Regatta M1 made it to the semis and W1 claimed victory.
Both M2 and W2 were made up entirely of novices this Lent Bumps. Though they had mixed fortunes so far as the charts are concerned, both crews acquitted themselves extremely well – particularly M2 who were surrounded by far more experienced M1 crews in the second division. This year I’ve thoroughly enjoyed coaching all our novices and have watched them turn into a close-knit bunch of capable rowers, and the improvement they’ve all made shows that we have a squad of hardworking and determined athletes, which bodes very well for the 2016/17 season!
This Lents, M1 found themselves again chasing Caius for the top spot. With sufficient speed to confidently and comfortably maintain their second place, the men had eyes only for moving up that last place on the river. Though they put in four herculean rows, they unfortunately never came quite close enough to secure the bump on Caius. Having dominated all term, W1 likewise went into Lent Bumps ready to stake their claim to Headship. On the first day we came within one and a half lengths of overbumping Christ’s off the top; then on days two and three we rowed home sufficiently bedecked with greenery, having bumped Emma and then Christ’s. Yet on the last day, with one place still to climb on the charts, a crab brought our boat to a stop outside the Plough. With the chasing crew a few feet off catching us, we rallied and snatched a second chance from the jaws of defeat by pulling off another racing start. Though we hurtled down the Long Reach like a thing possessed, the strong Jesus crew had alas already darted too far from our grasp. With both M1 and W1 now second in the Lents, it will be all to play for next February.
The highlight of the Easter vacation for everyone at Downing was surely heading down to London to watch Zara Goozée and Théa Zabell in the Boat Race. Théa had noviced only in Michaelmas 2014, whilst Zara has been the Wonder Woman of DCBC for quite a few years now. Having watched them go through the mentally and physically gruelling challenge that is trialling, I was ecstatic when they both earned a place in the Blue Boat, thrilled that their dedication and talent was being recognised at the university level. It goes without saying that CUW’s race did not exactly turn out as they would have hoped, yet I have never been prouder of my DCBC teammates and their Cambridge crew as I watched their ordeal unfold and the way in which they handled it. I’m sure you will agree that the outcome of their Boat Race does not detract in any way from their achievement this year, and that they perhaps pulled off something more special than a victory over Oxford, in sending such a strong message to a global audience about women’s rowing and how to show tenacity when faced with adversity.
After the Easter vacation, the whole club geared up for the culmination of this year’s training was – May Bumps. DCBC entered five crews this Mays – M1, M2, M3, W1 and W2 – and it’s safe to say that none of our boats had a dull week! M3, despite going down four overall, managed to avoid the ignominious accolade of spoons by securing a bump on the last day. M2 had an incredible yet gut-wrenching week, securing five overlaps but only managing to convert one of them into a bump. Nonetheless, this year’s crew have done an incredible job of transforming the fortunes of an M2 that has been flagging in recent years and this Mays certainly marks a turning point for the men’s squad. All but one of this year’s M2 will still be at Downing next year, which bodes extremely well for our new Men’s Captain, Andrew Niven. M1 put in four storming races of which they should all be immensely proud. Unfortunately outgunned in terms of experience and CUBC stash, they held their own among the top seven crews. Though the bumps charts will say that M1 went down two this year, anyone who managed to watch them race this Mays will surely agree that they produced some fantastic performances and definitely outperformed themselves in their defeat. Meanwhile, W2, after their triumphant return to the Lent Bumps and a win in the St Radegund Mile, were ready to attack the Mays. Every day they rowed well and raced hard, and held their own against more experienced crews in the chaotic atmosphere that is bumps racing. I was delighted to see how far our novices had come, and for W2 in particular May Bumps was an exciting week to round off an incredible year.
Four of this year’s novices (three rowers, one cox) had even earned themselves a seat in W1, and they also demonstrated throughout the May Bumps just how much effort and determination they had put in this year, as they created decisive margins over Caius each day. Downing W1 have now won May Bumps for five of the last six years, and have been Head of the River for all but one day since they took the Headship in 2011. I’d like to congratulate our Mays W1 again for successfully defending the Headship and proving once more that DCBC truly is a force to be reckoned with!!
In short – DCBC, it has been a privilege and I can’t wait to see what this next year holds. Feroces ad mortem.
Rachel, Captain of Boats 2015-16