As term drew to a close and travel pillows sell out faster than hotcakes, a select group of Oxford’s rowers descended upon Cambridge to race in the Fairbairn Cup. Fairbairns marks the highlight of the winter rowing calendar in Cambridge with every college entering their top boats into the 4,300m time trial. Four crews from Oxford made the journey to Cambridge – Pembroke’s Men’s Eight, Oriel’s Men’s Eight, Somerville Women’s Eight and Somerville Men’s Four.
Unlike Christ Church, Torpids and Eights where the boating area for most crews is the finish line, giving a preview of the course as you row to the start, the Cambridge boathouses sit on the start of the Fairbairns course. This combined with an exceptionally windy and narrow river makes it a nightmare for the inexperienced cox and gives a huge advantage to the home crews. This said Oxford put in some respectable performances.
Somerville Men’s Four came in in the middle of the pack in their division with a time of 12:02 for the short course covering 3400m. The Somerville women put in a similar performance coming 17th in a field of 31 in a time of 17:33 for the full course. Both respectable performances for a college not known for a historical rowing prowess on foreign territory.
In the men’s senior eights Pembroke and Oriel dominated the field but were lucky to race at all when the trailer carrying their boats broke down on the M25. With a replacement towing vehicle sourced the boats arrived with a mere 15 minutes before the race started. Oriel came 3rd out of a field of 37 college crews, narrowly losing out to long term rivals Downing. Yet despite their strong performance it was Pembroke who came out victorious in a repeat of last year’s performance with a substantial margin of 25s between them and the next college crew. Boosted by the return of their talismanic 3-man Eddie Rolls Pembroke even overcame the Cambridge Lightwieghts who have historically been the fastest crew of the day (but ineligible for the Fairbairn cup as they are not a college crew).
Looking forward to Torpids in 6th week the ball is definitely in Pembroke’s court. A margin of 29s presents the Tortoises with a substantial mountain to climb if they want to deliver a repeat of their 2015 performance. Further down the field with limited showings at external races or the Isis its all to play for on the men’s side. For the women’s divisions it is a similar picture of mystery but given the light blue domination of 2015, Wadham must be favourites for the headship.