OXFORD’S ROWERS are struggling to find any positives after 2014’s record-breaking rainfall forced the entire cancellation of Torpids, the prestigious rowing event which has taken place each Hilary term for over 175 years.
This year’s iteration was scheduled to take place on the Isis between Wednesday and Saturday of seventh week, but was officially called off by an Oxford University Rowing Clubs (OURCs) email sent to all college captains on Monday morning.
After OURCs initially only called off the first two days of racing, there had been hopes that, despite rivers around the country flowing higher and faster than usual following the recent weather, racing would have been able to go ahead on Friday and Saturday.
However, in announcing the event’s first full cancellation since 2007, Senior Umpires (SU) spokesperson Rachel Quarrell explained, “You won’t be surprised, if you were listening to last night’s rain, to hear that the river’s gone back up way too high for us to be able to run any Torpids at all… We’re a long way off even red-flag racing.”
The decision to cancel the event was made by the SUs and, as OURCs’ Secretary Scott Houghton explained, was backed by “both the OURCs committee and the Environment Agency.”
Houghton went on to say that because of the rain on Friday and Saturday, “Prior experience shows that there is no way it would drop to a level where racing would be possible.”
The heavy rainfall has decimated rowing this term, with crews having been unable to train on their usual stretches of the Isis since Michaelmas.
As well as racing being rendered unsafe, the Isis’ water level is currently too high to move houseboats moored on the river. Temporarily altering the river’s flow to move the houseboats in order to make room for potential racing has been ruled out for safety reasons.
Quarrell explained, “It was hoped, a few days ago, that we might reach a point where the lock could be shut in artificially for a few hours to shift a small number of houseboats, but it is obvious that now can’t happen since yesterday’s rain has filled up the water table again to the point where artificial shut-ins would cause flooding in residential areas.”
The four days of Torpids will be sorely missed by both participants and observers, as the event typically draws large crowds. Pembroke captain Camilla O’Driscoll commented that, “When the river gods are being kind and racing goes ahead, Torpids is usually a very exciting event – its historic rivalries make it the main fixture of collegiate rowing in Hilary.
“There is always plenty of action in the lower divisions where ability varies hugely between crews (so dramatic bumps are more likely); and in the top divisions, feuds between boat clubs vying for higher positions can go on for years.”
The cancellation also represents a blow to novice rowers who have already been affected by limited training opportunities. O’Driscoll told Cherwell, “While in Summer Eights many top division crews will be bolstered by returning Blues team rowers, Torpids crews tend to have a few more seats available for novices who competed in the Christ Church Regatta in Michaelmas to show how much they have progressed.”
Jesus’s Anna Turner-Major, one of the first-years to miss out on the competition commented, “My stomach sank when I heard the news that any chance of racing had been blown right out of the water. It was a shame to waste all those early mornings, but at least everyone’s in the same boat.”
The Senior Umpires’ statement said that, “It is extremely disappointing for the many crews who have trained hard on land and water, but [cancellation] was sadly unavoidable.” Quarrell explained that the Senior Umpires and OURCs were considering alternatives which could replace the event, but that “at the moment there is no route to convert Torpids into Isis Winter League-style (time-trial based) racing.”
Despite the setbacks, Pembroke’s O’Driscoll remained positive. She said, “I’m sure nobody feels that this term has been a waste: the rigorous training undertaken for Torpids has benefited our overall strength and fitness, and the crews that have worked hard this term will find themselves strongly placed to do well in Summer Eights next term.”
Crews’ entry funds have been fully refunded, OURCs confirmed, but the OURCs secretary was apologetic, “This will do little to raise the spirits of enthusiasts who have seen a third of the year’s rowing cut short.”
Despite the cancellation, some rowers are still hoping to celebrate in traditional style, with Exeter College Boat Club optimistically planning for a Saturday barbecue.