Cambridge women defeated in tempestuous Boat Race

Paul Hyland 27 March 2016

In only the second women’s Boat Race to ever take place on this course, an Oxford crew, guided by the inspirational cox Morgan Baynham Williams, stormed to an inassailable lead over a Cambridge crew who crossed the finish line almost submerged in the Thames. 

Oxford’s advantage had begun at the toss of a coin. With the Dark Blues opting to take Surrey, they consigned their Light Blue rivals to a sharper turn around the far less auspicious Middlesex bend as Oxford sought to build a head of steam. They did exactly that.  Like Cambridge, they boasted three returnees from the previous race, which Oxford took by six-and-a-half lengths. It was the experience of the Oxford crew that upheld their assault on the 6800 metre course in some of the worst conditions seen at the event in recent years.

In truth it looked like it’d be closer than it was. The Light Blues, coxed by Rosemary Ostfeld, were off like a shot, putting their noses in front thanks to a quicker reaction to the starting call. It was a scant lead that was quickly and effortlessly reassailed. Cambridge, taking more strokes per minute than their direct rivals, soon began to encroach on Oxford water as the Dark Blues held firm amid protests from cox, Morgan Baynham Williams. It was Baynham-Williams’s intervention that was so decisive. 

As Oxford put their noses ahead going into the Middlesex bend, she rallied her crew to take control as Fulham’s Craven Cottage came and went. As cox Ostfeld’s voice began to fill with desperation moving into the first bend, the Oxford crew began to move away. It soon began to look as if Cambridge’s best hope to emerge victorious was a fortuitous clash of blades as the crews came into Hammersmith, with Cambridge number two emerging from a number of near-misses next to Oxford stroke Lauren Kedar.  

The danger of a collision was soon arrested by a much more present danger. Battered by the wind, the choppy waters began to enter the Cambridge boat at Hammersmith Bridge. Baynham-Williams smelt blood, and ordered her crew over into the Cambridge part of the river in an effort to cement their impressive lead. Though the Dark Blues initially struggled in the rough tide, and breathed life back into a race they had already killed off.  

But as the bend of the Thames began to run out, order was restored.  Cambridge fell behind by well more than a length as choppy waters struck once more.  As Rosemary Ostfeld roard her charges onto the approach into Barnes Bridge, Oxford struck once more, guided by their cox into the shallow water to shelter them from the rougher ride that had beset Light Blue efforts the whole way through. It was a risk that paid off with interest. An absolute masterstroke by Baynham-Williams steered her crew away from the water that looked increasingly likely to make them the first crew to sink in a Boat Race since 1978.

Oxford coach Christine Wilson was full of praise for her cox’s decision: "It was remarkable,’ she said. ‘We did anticipate tough conditions but it exceeded everyone’s expectations. We didn't talk about the option Morgan [Baynham-Williams] took, which was to come inside the buoy.  It was a brilliant decision.  As soon as they got inside they were able to relax a bit more and get out further in front.  It was one of the best under-pressure coxing-decisions I’ve ever experienced."

As soon as Cambridge’s endeavour became one to stay afloat, this was a dead rubber.  Ostfeld became the first cox of the day to hit the water, but for all the wrong reasons, and she called for the race to continue as red flags waved at Barnes Bridge. Cambridge rowed on, submerged and defeated. "It wasn’t an option not to finish," Hannah Roberts said, "We put so much into it this year.  Obviously we knew the result wasn't going to go our way but we had to see it through to the end.  Once we started taking on water, we just couldn’t overcome it, but I’m so proud of my crew.  I couldn't ask for better women to do this with."

In one of the greatest traditions of British sport, it was fitting to see the contest decided by a masterful piece of sportsmanship.  Cambridge, unfortunate to be killed off by unfavourable conditions, found themselves outrowed by a tremendous Oxford crew who won by a handsome margin, thanks in no small part to the superb Morgan Baynham-Williams.