A successful weekend for SSBC at the British University Championships

M1 competes in BUCS, W1 stroke races in Cambridge boat

This weekend represented a somewhat historic moment for SSBC. For the first time ever, at least in the memory of our current committee and coaches, Sidney sent one of its boats to the British University & College Sport (BUCS) Rowing Regatta. On Saturday, the 5th of May, our M1 crew competed in the Intermediate Eights category. at the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham. On Monday, the women’s side was also represented as our Women’s captain and W1 stroke, Florence Alexander, rowed with the Light Blues in a Cambridge four.

M1 race report

For M1, it was certainly a unique experience. None of us had rowed on a side-by-side regatta course before. Instead of the familiar college crews of Clare or Corpus, we found ourselves in competition with the likes of university crews such as Bath and Portsmouth. On Saturday morning we arrived at the regatta course and realised we were in the midst of a buzzing rowing event, dwarfing anything like Head of the Cam or May Bumps. Thankfully, the day was accompanied by glaring sunshine, which was apparently just as rare as the SSBC participation. By mid morning, our support team had been extended by coaches Michael and David, after our head coach Silvia had already travelled up north with us on Friday.

Our task was clear: out of approximately 50 crews that took part in a 1.5k time trial, we had to be amongst the fastest 36 boats. This would allow us to progress  to then enter side-by-side finals with six competing crews each. In the increasing midday heat, we made our way to the water for an all-too-short warm up. 1.5k time trial – just another thing none of us had raced before. We went of from a standing start and found our rhythm well early on. But, as we all admitted afterwards, the unusual race set-up got to us and it was really only after passing the 500m mark that we really went all out, pushing harder the longer the race went. Having crossed the finish line we were content with our performance, yet unsure whether it would be enough to get within the top 36. With boats such as Oxford Brookes, Newcastle and Durham competing in our category, it had always been clear that if anything we would go through near the bottom of the pile rather than at the top.

Anxiously, we awaited the result of the time trial which took unusually long to be published. Almost two hours passed until the happy news arrived. We had gotten on – as 36th out of 36 crews! Lucky punch, some might say; excellent management of energy reserves is our view. In the afternoon, we thus faced 5 other crews (places 36 to 31) in a side-by-side 2k race. Given the results of the time trial, most people probably had us down as the obvious candidates for coming last. And indeed, having never done a side-by-side race, we started off with a hectic and unbalanced start. In the first hundred meters we probably lived up to this expectation, however we recovered well and pushed on. Immediately, it was clear that it was not us who were trailing the field, but UEA that we left far behind us. Around the half-way mark, it dawned on us that we were not only not the slowest boat, but actually in a fierce competition for third place (although, of course, none of us looked outside the boat to check our competitors!!). We kept our calm and surgically executed our race plan. Leaving everything out on that water, we pushed over the race line – one second ahead of Southampton B and two seconds ahead of Cardiff! After initial confusion it was soon confirmed that against the odds we had secured an excellent third place, with Trinity Hall (the only other Cambridge college crew) coming second and Bath first.

For M1, this was a thrilling experience. We took on the challenge to leave the premises of the Cam and race with the “big boats” in the unfamiliar premises of side-by-side racing. We demonstrated concentration and focus in race preparation, determination and strength in the execution of our plans. Huge thanks to our head coach Silvia, who provided the following thoughts on our race: “Over the last few years we have been working to rebuild the club on limited resources. Being now in a place that we can field a good crew to race in a university competition is most rewarding. Making history for the club along the way, since we have never before been to BUCS, is a bonus. I am happy and proud how the guys have stepped up to this challenge. It’s great to be able to expose them to a serious race experience, which will help them to grow and develop, and inspire them. The way they worked their way in their final into 3rd place was fantastic and the experience will help them come bumps. I am sure that the memory of the weekend at BUCS will be something they will look back on fondly.” Many thanks also to our coaches Michael and David without whose support none of this would have been possible. Also, our boat would not have been on the water without a sub from Churchill, the impeccable Jeremy Parker. He rowed in our 7 seat with such skill that it seemed as if he had always trained with our boat. Finally, we are grateful to Tim Rhodes for all the logistical support and for driving our boat up to Nottingham.

Philipp Hirsch – M1 Bow seat

CUW/W1 stroke seat race report

In addition to M1 racing BUCS, I also had the opportunity to row in a development crew entered by CUWBC to the intermediate 4+ category. Following a 2k test and a couple of training sessions with various crew lineups, our boat was selected just over a week before the big day. I was privileged to race alongside rowers from Jesus, Caius, and Homerton 1st boats, not to mention the Cantabs W2 cox. Our first training session together brought the worst winds any of us have ever rowed or coxed (including on the tideway). Despite the waves crashing over the side of the boat we battled through to complete our 1km pieces into the headwind. At least we would be prepared for the weather in Nottingham – we thought – but the water was still and the sun was shining on race day. We were up bright and early at 4:30 to drive up to Nottingham with the rest of the CUW squad.

First came the 1.5km time trial. After the promise of iced coffee from Jack (our cox) on the start line, we wound it up and executed the best rowing we had done together all week. Jack even said it “looked good” from his seat in the bow-loader, slightly puzzled by this comment, we pushed on to cross the finish line.  As a crew, we had our sights set on being in the top half and perhaps making the D final (although I personally wanted to come 35th or above to beat M1). To our surprise, we qualified second fastest in the C final having come 14th out of 48 crews, missing out on the semifinals by under 2 seconds.

It was then time for our final. After a slightly shaky start, we pulled away and were sat in second place by the 500m mark. Throughout the middle km, we battled with the crews around us to try to edge in front. In the last 500m the crews around us wound it up for a sprint to the line. As a very newly formed crew, we couldn’t quite match this sprint, leaving us to take 4th place in what was a very close race. We later found out that we had equaled the best result a CUW development crew in our category had ever done, and with our 14th place in the time trial, we hold our heads high. It was a fantastic opportunity to race with other college rowers, that we usually compete against, and to gain some experience in multi-lane racing. All our thanks goes out to our coaches, Jaimie and Paddy, who were particularly patient with us throughout our training and on our race day.

Florence Alexander


After Head of the River in London, BUCS is already the second race that SSBC took part in outside of Cambridge this year. This is evidence to the positive development of the boat club over the past few years. However, in the immediate future our focus remains locked on home and for the next six weeks. Only one thing will be on our minds – May Bumps!

Leave a Reply