The annual rowing competition takes place this year on Sunday 6th April 2014 and promises to be as great a spectacle as ever. Although the race itself usually only lasts about 16 to 18 minutes, there’s plenty of build-up to the event and a wonderfully festive atmosphere among the crowds of spectators, making for an entertaining day out.
If you’re new to The Boat Race but keen to take in this historic event, we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to the race, its traditions and the best places to catch all the action. Read on to learn more about one of London’s favourite sporting events…
History of The Boat Race: 10 fun facts
• The first Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race took place in 1829, after two Cambridge students challenged their rivals at Oxford to a friendly rowing competition – which Oxford proceeded to win.
• The race has been a fixed annual event since 1856 – this makes it one of the country’s oldest sporting competitions, with its yearly occurrence only interrupted during the First and Second World Wars.
• The rowers are known as “blues” and their teams as “Blue Boats” – this stems from the old tradition of Oxford dressing in dark blue and Cambridge in light blue to distinguish them during the race.
• The first race was held at Henley-on-Thames, with several other early races taking place along a stretch of the river from Westminster to Putney. For most of its history, however, the race has been run along a route between Putney and Mortlake (although in some years the direction was reversed, from Mortlake toward Putney).
• Of the 159 races rowed so far, Cambridge has won 81, while Oxford trails slightly at 77 – there was one dead heat recorded in 1877.
• The fastest time ever recorded was by Cambridge, who completed the course in 16 minutes and 19 seconds in 1998.
• The 2014 Boat Race is the 160th to be rowed.
• In recent years each event has been watched live by around 250,000 people who line the water’s edge, as well as millions more who watch on television at home.
• Over the years a number of sponsors have attached their names to the event; from 2013 BNY Mellon took over as the official race sponsor.
• The race has a history of going ahead regardless of weather conditions – this has led to The Boat Race taking place even in windy, rough conditions that would have cancelled most international boating events, and one or both Blue Boats have indeed sunk on a number of occasions.
The Boat Race today
The 2014 Boat Race starts at 6pm on Sunday 6th April and follows an s-shaped route along a stretch of the Thames in West London that covers some 6.8 kilometres (4.2 miles).
Before the race begins, the presidents of the two rowing clubs toss a coin (to be precise, an 1829 gold sovereign, in a nod to the event’s history), with the winner gaining the right to choose which side of the river to row on – the “Middlesex” (north) side or the “Surrey” (south) side. Each side has pros and cons in terms of length and bends – normally the teams will decide based on the weather and rowing conditions on the day.
There is also a race between the universities’ reserve teams (called Isis on the Oxford side, and Goldie on Cambridge’s) – this takes place a half hour before the main race.
Tips for watching The Boat Race
• It’s free to watch The Boat Race, but you’re advised to get there early to beat the crowds, especially if you want a seat at one of the waterside pubs that line sections of the route. By staying near the Thames at The Royal Horseguards Hotel, you’re situated comfortably close to the action – the starting point is less than a 20-minute drive (or 30 minutes by foot and tube) from the hotel.
• If you’re near the water’s edge, be careful – the organiser and media boats following the rowers can sometimes create big waves that will drench your feet!
• Many restaurants and pubs put on entertainment and special menus on the day of the race, and there are free events in Bishops Park and Fulham and Furnival Gardens, close to the route. These include refreshments, live entertainment and large screens showing the televised race, if you can’t manage to get a spot close enough to the river.
Best places to watch The Boat Race
• The race starts at 6pm at Putney Bridge and heads toward Fulham Football Club – you get good views of this section of the race from Putney Bridge itself and the towpath along Putney Embankment.
• Once the boats start to move up around the first bend, some of the best observation points are the landings in front of the Barn Elms Boat House and the former Harrods Depository.
• One of the most popular points to observe the middle section of the race, as things are properly heating up, is along the footpath near Hammersmith Bridge and on the Bridge itself. You can also obtain a decent view from the landings at St. Paul’s School Boathouse, The Emanuel School Boathouse and along Chiswick Pier.
• To catch the big finish, try to secure a spot in Dukes Meadow or on Chiswick Bridge.
• The Boat Race’s official site has further details of the best spots to watch the race.
Are you planning to watch The Boat Race this year? What is your favourite vantage point?