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2012 Potomac Challenge Cup Draws Crowds and Cheers

by Peter Hansen

The third annual running of the Cambridge-Oxford Potomac Boat Race took place on Saturday, October 6, 2012, before a large crowd of assembled Oxbridge alumni, their friends and family, and bemused bystanders. 
This rowing season was wrought with challenges and drama; ranging from difficulties booking shells; to a dispute with Oxford over the date of the race; and finally with a late summer's squal which threatened the race itself, as the beautiful weather earlier in the day turned dark and drizzly just before race timeTrepidation about the status of the race was highest at 2:00PM as the US Coast Guard issued a 'small craft advisory' and cast doubts about whether the race would or could go on. Despite great consternation by the Thompson's Boat House staff, a stouthearted determination by the Cambridge crews to take on the chop and pitch of the wind-whipped Potomac, eventually led the Cambridge crews to zip up to Key Bridge posthaste to avoid the incoming front being tracked a mere thirty minutes away.

Racing for the Cup of Destiny, the various boat crews in turn took their places beneath Key Bridge ready to charge toward the finish lines 1000 meters away, visible only to the launch umpire armed with a GPS-tracking phone.
The Light Blue women's IV proceeded first to the starting line, with a week of misfortune behind them. The Ladies were struck by near disaster, when star competitor, Laura Blecha (St. Edmunds), sprained not one, but both ankles the week ahead of the race. A stalwart athlete, Blecha continued her offer to row if no other Light Blue lady stepped up. Luckily, Kassie Hunt (St. John's) stepped into the boat at the last minute to complete the four, along with the coxswain Asha Putiah (Trinity Hall), Anya Jones (Fitzwilliam), Beth Schill (St. Edmunds), and Mae Wu Peng (Queens) who had just returned from maternity leave. 
Come race day, the Oxford women, well equipped by the elite Potomac Boat Club, decided to take a warmup cruise for quite a long while, during which time the Cambridge ladies maintained position as the fatigue from rowing quickly upstream took hold. Once the Oxford women stopped playing games and got down to racing, they had a clear energy advantage and won by about seven lengths amidst 9-inch waves. Oxford's forfeit of last year was thus rather questionably avenged.

Next came the men's VIII race, which has traditionally been dominated by Oxford's team of near-professional racers. The largely youthful Dark Blue cadre not only competes almost weekly during the season, but they enjoy the Potomac Boat Club's posh facilities and dedicated equipment. Many of the doughty Cambridge Light Blues could, by contrast, remember their halcyon days taking part in the old Potomac Boat Races of the 1980s and 1990s. The boat was anchored by a stalwart crew including; 
Kedar Narayan (Christ's), Blair Lapres (Darwin), Hårvard Halland (Wolfson), Mike Jenner (Christ's), Robin Mearns (St. Catharine's), Dan Owen (Girton), Bruce Swartz (Trinity), Bill Kynes (St. John's), coxswain Jennifer Bitting (Hughes Hall), and was backed up by Paul Martin (Magdalene). With boats on the water, the crew rowed sternly upriver to meet Oxford at Key Bridge.

Once again, the Oxford side elected to take quite a long warmup lap, which lasted roughly a quarter of an hour, this time being spent after significant delays took place before they embarked. The Oxford crew swanned about on the Potomac, nearly disappearing upstream out of the Light Blues' view at one point. This spread confusion among the crowds assembled a half-mile away on the quayside. The grim weather, however, turned gradually sunnier and calmer as the time passed.

Once the signal was finally given, the stalwart Light Blues took on their junior Dark Blue counterparts with pluck and determination. Given Oxford's enormous physical, training and equipment advantages, the Light Blues did surprisingly well, losing by a mere four to five lengths in a continuing 9-inch chop. As always with the Potomac races, cheers went up from the crowds to urge each team on.

As alumni began gradually to drift into Nick's Riverside Grill by the quayside for the post-Race reception, a lone IV struck out from Thompson's. As was done last year, a cheeky band of Cambridge Past Masters -
 coxswain William Onorato (Jesus), Mike Jenner (Christ's), Chris Thompson (St. Catharine's), Bill Kynes (St. John's), and David Wilson (Caius) who had just gotten off a flight from Heathrow earlier that morning - headed upriver to row over and claim the forfeit. As they rowed up and then down, the boat was cheered on by Cambridge alumni eager for a moral (yet somewhat Pyrrhic) victory, as the crew faced a near-sinking in the dockside waves.

At the afterparty - held at Nick's Riverside Grille - the Cup of Destiny took its place on the bar, surrounded by Cambridge Society flyers and their portraits of Guy Fawkes announcing the upcoming Society dinner. Just as in the previous two years, the reception was a roaring success, with upwards of a hundred people from both schools, and their friends and families, attending and drinking Pimm's cocktails specially arranged by Cantab DC Associate Vice President, Akua Opoku-Mensah.
For the first time, a raffle was held by the Society, offering three different prizes - British goods, Cambridge mementos, and a set of Cambridge University cufflinks. This successful fundraiser ended with crowds and merriment as the winning numbers were read out.

All in all, the third annual revived Potomac Boat Race was a great success for the Society, and a model for next year!

If you would like to know more about the Cantab DC Boat Club, or if you wish to join the crew for next year; then please read our Call for Rowers and request to place you on the email list for notices of practices. Discover more about the historic foundation of the Potomac Boat Races online.
This Year's Boat Race News Items: 

2012 Potomac Boat Race Photos 

2012 Cambridge-Oxford Potomac Challenge Event Programme 

2012 Potomac Light Blue Crews Announced