This Week in History: Both boats sink in Oxford and Cambridge boat race

On 30 March 1912, the annual boat race between Oxford and Cambridge was cancelled after both teams sank. The boat race is an annual tradition between the two universities where the teams race along a 4.2 mile stretch of the River Thames.

The race originated in 1829 and has been conducted every year since 1856, except during the two World Wars. Before the race, both club presidents toss a coin to decide which team gets to choose their preferred side of the river. The fastest river current runs through the centre of the Thames and so both sides often attempt to gain a lead at the start in order to manoeuvre into the centre. This makes it very difficult for the opposing team to overtake. One thing is certain: the boat race continues no matter how severe the weather.

On the day of the boat race in 1912, the weather conditions were deplorable and there were very high winds. The University of Oxford won the coin toss and chose to start on the north side of the Thames.

The race commenced at 11.43am and, despite Cambridge gaining an early lead, by the end of the first minute Oxford were ahead. The Oxford team were taking on a significant volume of water and the coxswain had to steer the boat to the bank where the water was emptied from the boat. As they attempted to continue with the race the umpire notified them that Cambridge had also sunk and so the race was to be called off. The following day the weather had not improved but a re-row still took place. Again, Oxford won the toss and this time chose the south side of the Thames. Oxford eventually won the race by six lengths – the largest winning margin since 1903.

The boat race has remained a popular British tradition and it is now common for upwards of 250,000 spectators to line the Thames to watch the race. In the most recent boat race in 2016, Cambridge won the boat race bringing the overall scores to Cambridge – 82, and Oxford – 79. The next will be held on Sunday 2 April, 2017.

 

Image: Wat Bradford

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