The Boat Race

Friday, 2nd April 2010 by

The 156th annual Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Clubs will take place this Saturday, April 3rd, on the River Thames in London.

Thames

The first Boat Race between the two rowing clubs took place in 1829, followed by intermittent competitions in different locations for a few years. The current course – almost 7km in length, stretching from Putney in the east to Mortlake in the west – has been used for the majority of races since 1839.

As Google hasn’t yet launched River View1 we’ll take a look at some landmarks along the course from satellite, Street View and Bing’s aerial views.

The start, just upstream from Putney Bridge is marked by a stone on the South Bank, marked UBR. Soon after the boats reach the Black Buoy (which has been confusingly painted yellow for safety reasons), Bing obligingly shows us a pair of boats nearby, and lots of action at the boat houses in this area – including a boat on legs!

Boat Race Putney Boat HousesPutney Boat Houses

Although travelling upstream, the race is timed to start with the peak of the incoming tide, which can lead to strong currents and choppy water if the wind is strong. Teams toss a coin to determine which of them gets to select their start position based on weather conditions and strengths of their crews.

After passing an area of shallow water near Craven Cottage, the boats reach the Mile Post, a good timing marker and memorial to a rowing coach.

Boat Race

At the former Harrods’ Furniture Depository, the team on the southern bank starts to regain the advantage of the turn.

Boat Race Boat Race

The next landmark is the quite lovely Hammersmith Bridge. Historically the team leading at this point generally (80%+ of races) holds on to win the race.

Boat Race Boat Race

The history of the race is peppered with anecdotes and lore, including a pair of mutinies by Oxford crews upset with crew selections and the actions of club presidents. There have also been several occasions when one or both boats sank as a result of bad weather or collisions with river traffic.

Chiswick Pier is just one of many excellent vantage points for spectators watching the race – up to a quarter of a million people are estimated to line the river banks for the afternoon.

Boat Race

The Barnes Railway Bridge is a narrow corner where teams can clash oars in a close race, though since 1945 only one team has managed to win after trailing at this point2.

Boat Race Boat Race

The Race finishes near the Chiswick Bridge – at the striped pole visible from Street View. Generally one can expect to see the rowers collapse in exhaustion, though the winning team usually recovers enough strength to ceremoniously throw their cox into the river.

Boat Race

Currently, Cambridge leads with 79 victories to Oxford’s 75. There was one dead heat – in 1877 – though it is rumoured that the referee was sleeping at the time so was not aware of the actual result and proclaimed a draw in an attempt to save face.

There are more boat houses just beneath the Chiswick bridge, with both Bing and Street View giving us an excellent look at the facilities.

Boat Houses Boat Houses

The two University Boat Clubs are based near their home towns. Cambridge has a home base on the River Cam but they generally do their training on the Great River Ouse in Ely.

CUBC Ely

For many years Oxford‘s boat house was on the Isis3 but it was lost in a fire in 1999, so they now have a new home on the Thames in Wallingford.

OUBC

Much more information can be found at the official Boat Race web site.


  1. We’ve had street view cameras on cars, trikes and snowmobiles… boats can’t be too far away can they? 

  2. Bing image included solely because of the beautiful long shadow! 

  3. The Thames waterway is called the Isis in Oxford.