Cherwell

Oxford dominates the Varsity punt race

A gloriously sunny day in Cambridge saw the Oxford Punt Racing team surge to a convincing victory over the Tabs this week on their home ground.

Arriving in Grantchester Meadows, just outside of the Cambridge town center, the Oxford side were somewhat confused by the emptiness of the venue. Where were the legions of adoring fans? Where were the millions of spectators coming to watch this most glorious of sports? More to the point – where was the Cambridge team?

As it turned out the Cambridge side was an hour late for a reason – they had underestimated how long it would take to punt everyone up to the race course venue. This rather strange oversight from a group of elite punters was to prove ominous.

As with the last punt race held in 2007 (which resulted in a Tab victory which the Oxford team were keen to avenge), the race format consisted of two simultaneous races in different directions – an ‘A’ race upstream and a ‘B’ race downstream – each course being about 300 meters long. The initial pair of races resulted in a tie, as Oxford won the B race and Cambridge won the A race. This loss was due to the narrowness of the B race course, which benefited the more aggressive Cambridge’s team’s policy of shunting our punts against the bank to win an advantage as we attempted to extricate ourselves from the various nettles on the river bank.

The second pair of races saw Oxford’s Danny Tipping against Cambridge’s James Wright on the A course, and Oxford’s Chloe Ingersent against Cambridge’s Nick Morris on the B course. The B race course once again proved fatally narrow as a close race saw Oxford inch closer and closer to Cambridge on the way back after a dodgy spin, but the Cambridge pair proved stronger and ultimately claimed the win on this occasion.

The A race, however, once again resulted in a convincing Oxford victory as Cambridge punted into the bank. This took the score to an again equal 2-2, and a lead was not solidified in the next pair of races, which once again saw Cambridge win the B race and Oxford win the A race. The score now stood at 3-3, which was starting to worry an Oxford team which had considered itself the stronger side. Were the Cambridge team really our equals? The tense situation was not helped by a rather large argument breaking out on the banks of the river after this pair of races when some water gun attacks by the Oxford paddlers on the Cambridge team during the race did not go down well. This resulted in the umpires being asked to make a decision as to whether or not water cannons are fair play within the rules of gentlemanly conduct (they are).

However, in the fourth and final pair of races Oxford’s Richard Tanburn and Michael Shaw won both their races against a valiant effort by the Cambridge punts, and stepped off their vessels to cheers as the final score now stood at 5-3, a convincing Oxford lead – but Cambridge could still pull it back and win in the final race, which was worth 3 points. It was still all to play for as we selected our five fastest punters for the relay race which the final consisted of.

Consistently strong punting by the Oxford team left Cambridge many lengths behind us after the first few laps, and a fast and well-managed switch of punters as the baton was passed for the relay also benefited the Oxford team.

Yet disaster struck in the third lap of the course, as a paddler moving around in the boat caused Oxford punter Florence Avery to drop her pole in an error not normally seen at such high levels of the sport. Caring not for her own safety and putting the interests of the team above her own, Ms Avery jumped into the river and swam to get the pole, before continuing to punt the rest of the course soaking wet. This quick thinking  probably saved Oxford from being overtaken by Cambridge, who were coming close up behind – but their next punter was not so strong, and resulted in Oxford lengthening the lead convincingly as Cambridge consistently rowed into the bank.

The final punter, Danny Parrot, sailed convincingly back to the finish line as Cambridge were still struggling to turn upriver – a convincing margin of victory which took the final score to 8-3. After a celebratory chorus of ‘I would rather be a leper than a Tab’, the Oxford team were presented with a prize by the Cambridge Punting President, and headed off to the pub to celebrate their victory.