On the last day of Torpids, both temperature and passions rose, and the sun shone brighter as if to outdo the brilliant gold of Linacre’s blades. It was a perfect day for rowing, for racing, for bumps. But few of Linacre’s rowing team had slept well. The burden of days past felt heavier. All crews had done well, exceptionally and brilliantly well. They had much to congratulate themselves on. But there was the feeling, perhaps privately acknowledged, never openly whispered, that only perfection would do. With only one day to row, all three boats were on for blades. The unthinkable beckoned. Could all get a bump, while avoiding one on themselves? The odds seemed impossible. But Linacre’s rowers stepped up to take one more throw of the dice.
W2 took up the challenge first. Eager for a real bump after days of mere row pasts, today was the last chance they had to prove they had what it took to stand up in the rough and tumble of bumps racing. They had in their sights Magdalen II, a powerful boat, but one that Linacre felt lay well within their grasp. Magdalen twisted and turned, striving to escape from Linacre and achieve their own bump on a Hertford boat. The crews slogged it out over a wide expanse of river, this was bumps racing at its most gruelling. And then, almost within sight of victory, disaster struck. Magdalen bumped out. Linacre had to push on for the overbump on the hapless Hertford, some way ahead, and they were running out of river. With the finish line approach, Hertford ran for safety. Linacre drew them in inch by inch. The bystanders at Boathouse Island waited with bated breath. Linacre held, held, held, and then began to turn away. Cheering broke out among the spectators, this meant Linacre had snatched the bump at the last moment, and W2 had secured blades.
W1 had a tricky position almost at the top of Division III. Also striving for a bump, this time on a Queens’ crew, victory would mean they would row almost immediately afterwards as the bottom boat of Division II. W1 had no qualms about this. Queens’ had been dropping through the ranks, and must have had the sensation of being thrown to the wolves. A strong push from Linacre, and Queens’ gave up the unequal battle, ceding the top of the Division III to the rampant Linacre. But with a race to row, did this equal blades? The jury was out. W1 were determined to race again to put the matter beyond doubt. But while the women waited to settle the issue once and for all, M1 were now in contention.
M1 took to the water with their dramatic rise through the ranks already alarming many of their fellow crews in Division III. Many of the crews on the bungline had already felt Linacre’s onrushing bows hot on their heels; others studied the bumps charts and knew their turn was soon to come. St Hugh’s were the obstacle between M1 and blades. They were determined to give Linacre a good race, starting cleanly from the gun, but concession was clearly on their cox’s mind. They struggled gamely on to Donnington Bridge, and then, with Linacre unstoppable, decided to haul down their flag and concentrate on simply reaching the end of their course. Behind M1, a New boat that had never seemed threatening, had wisely decided not to even try to push onto them. M1 had blades!
W1 had clearly earned their blades by now, but the offer of a challenge lay ahead and they were not going to refuse it. A place in Division II could be theirs, if they could snatch one last bump. The boats in Division II might have looked down on Linacre as an interloper, they were soon to be humbled. A Brasenose boat, a former nemesis, was the target. Linacre came on strongly, but the Brasenose boat snatched a bump and escaped Linacre’s thrust. Undeterred, W1 went for the overbump on St Anne’s. The final stretch by the Boathouses opened up, the cheering reached fever pitch. St Anne’s resisted, resisted, resisted, but at the crossing, right in front of Linacre’s many supporters, were forced to concede. An amazing overbump and a place in Division II, and blades, blades beyond any doubt.
Blades. Blades, blades, blades, in glorious black and gold. For every boat, every rower, every cox and coach. An unprecedented moment in Linacre’s rowing history. College boats train hard, and sometimes, occasionally, a boat brings back a single blade once every few years. Today Linacre gathered a haul of three. But more importantly, everyone involved had the most coveted rowing accolade to celebrate, and the rowers of Linacre and Nuffield truly were united in one boat club. At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, one of the coxes of the club was, by main force, casually heaved off the end of the dock into the Isis. A sacrifice to the gods of the river in thanks for the successes? Perhaps. But if a dunking like that could cause the joy seen today, that of a club that had rowed well together, I’d swim the Isis and back again. Summer eights beckon.
Ben Eacott, 7th March 2015