Jeff Gingold - of the New York Rowing Association produced this article - with a blow by blow account of the race.
The inaugural Oxford-Cambridge New York Alumni Boat Race on Sunday April 3, 2005 was a gathering of over eighty alumni rowers and friends, who rowed, coxed, cheered, and celebrated the spirit embodied in the rivalry that has helped set the standards for excellence in rowing and sportsmanship the world over. The partnerships of two organizations, (NYRA) and the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), have helped accelerate a resurgence of rowing in the New York area, creating an environment that allowed the event to take place.
This boat race marks the beginning of a season of four annual regattas being run by New York Rowing Association (NYRA) making it the first time that the Harlem River in New York City has had a rowing season of both collegiate and club regattas since the 1950’s. NYRA, which began in 1866 as the Harlem Regatta Association, is comprised of 19 organizations that are dedicated to providing programs and events that promote rowing in the New York and the surrounding areas.
The rowers and spectators gathered at the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse around 8:30 A.M. for breakfast. Cambridge alumni, in particular, had come out in force; perhaps eager to exact revenge upon the Oxford alumni for the previous week’s loss in the Boat Race. So many of them showed up, in fact, that all parties decided to hold two eights races instead of one. In a strange twist of fate, Cambridge realized they didn’t have a cox, and so recruited Nanci Ship who had come to cheer on the Oxford team, but agreed to cox both Cambridge boats (Nanci coxed at McGill.)
The races were 1,000-meters in length, a standard course for masters (known as “veterans” in the U.K.), and were run from the 1,000-meter mark of the regular race course, just north of the Washington Bridge, to the 2,000-meter finish line, right before the boathouse. The relative ages, rowing experience and fitness levels varied amongst the rowers in all boats, but beneath their jocular dispositions, the heightened determination was evident in every one of them.
A few minutes before 10:00 A.M., the first eights launched from the boathouse, and headed south, against the tide, to warm up. At 10:25 A.M., Cambridge drew even with Oxford some twenty-five meters before the starting line, and both eights were ordered to “easy oars,” to allow for a floating start. The coxswains continued to make minors adjustments as the tide carried the boats northward in formation. As the two bows crossed the starting line, the umpire yelled, “row!” Both boats bolted off the line, but Cambridge rowed far more efficiently, seizing a length’s lead within the first thirty strokes, and going on to win easily. It should be said that the Cambridge 1st boat had a number of US national rowers in the crew.
The second set of competing eights had launched at approximately 10:50 A.M. The novice boats of the two women’s collegiate crews were racing up the course by this time, and so extra time to warm up was allowed. By 11:25 A.M., when the next race was ready to begin, the crosswind and tide had picked up, so the race was given a running start. Both boats were ordered to alternatively firm up or ease the pressure of their paddling as they approached the line in order to even them out. Cambridge managed to have a lead at the start, but Oxford was having none of that. Rowing more assertively and much better than before, Oxford caught up to Cambridge within several hundred meters, and lead by several seats at the halfway mark. Cambridge redoubled their efforts, refusing to let their opponents slip away, but the Oxford alumni protected their lead all the way to the finish, winning by almost half a length.
As per the best traditions of English rowing, both races ended with each crew saluting the other’s efforts, and bestowing due respect. After the boats and oars had been put away, the captains decided that with both Oxford and Cambridge winning one race apiece, the contest was a draw. Regardless, every rower was rewarded with a commemorative t-shirt, a certificate of participation, and a lot of cheering and appreciation from all of their friends and fellow alumni.
After the regatta, everyone had a celebratory brunch at the New Leaf Café, situated in a quaint 1930’s stone building that’s between the entrance to Fort Tryon Park and the famous Cloisters beyond. Once again, the crews of the day were toasted and saluted by their loyal supporters, and all of the participants thanked NYRA for the use of their boathouse and equipment, as well as their services.
The Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse and the New Leaf Café are both among the many accomplishments of the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) which is dedicated towards being the “conservancy of forgotten places.” Since its founding in 1995, NYRP has been a successful model of how a large non-profit corporation can accomplish a great amount of good in parks, natural resources, and recreational areas through collaboration with both public and private firms. NYRP’s partnership with NYRA began in grand style on June 17, 2004 with the opening of the Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse. NYRA runs the boathouse, where three clubs presently reside, as well as the Urban Rowing Initiative, a learn-to-row program provided free of charge for youths in a number of local schools in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan.
The inaugural Oxford-Cambridge New York Alumni Boat Race was due to the efforts of a number of people including Amanda Pullinger, Guy Spier and Adrienne Yee, of the Oxford Alumni Association of New York and Widge Devaney from the Cambridge Alumni Association, Kathy Lord of Cambridge in America, in addition to Tom Curry, Jeff Gingold and Vince Paparo of the New York Rowing Association. Like the Oxford-Cambridge New York Boat Race Dinner held this year on April 7, 2005, which is the world’s longest-running annual Oxford Cambridge alumni event, this inaugural race signifies the deep passion and pride the people have in the traditions of their alma maters.
1st boat Oxford rowers: Derek Benham (New), Michael Burcher (Exeter), Andrew Comrie-Picard (Trinity), William Fedyna (St Anne’s), Jason Pronyk (St Antony’s), Brian Romanzo (Harris Manchester), Alan Supple (St Catherines), John Wadleigh (Keble), Joseph Lau (Coxwain, Christ Church)
1st boat Cambridge rowers: Widge Devaney (Cambridge Captain, Hughes Hall), Ethan Ayer (St Edmunds), Simon Irish (Clare), Matthew Milikowsky (Hughes Hall), Markus Peter (Downing), Michael Tebay (Trinity), John Temple (Trinity), Somerset Waters (Trinity), Nanci Ship (Coxwain, McGill)
2nd boat Oxford rowers: Guy Spier (Oxford Captain, Brasenose), Andrew Comrie-Picard (Trinity), William Fedyna (St Anne’s), Jason Pronyk (St Antony’s), Brian Romanzo (Harris Manchester), Daniel Arnow (Corpus Christi), Michael Jakob (Wolfson, Cambridge: helped out the Oxford crew!), Darren Marshall (Lincoln), Joseph Lau (Coxwain, Christ Church)
2nd boat Cambridge rowers: Andrew Baker (Queens), Ian Hawkins (Trinity), Jeremy Lemer (Sidney Sussex), Dale Neef (Wolfson), Beth Picard (Darwin), David Potash (Trinity), Jan-Roman Potocki (Hughes Hall), Andrew Rollason (Kings), Nanci Ship (Coxwain, McGill)
For more information:
Oxford Alumni Association of New York www.oxalumny.org
Cambridge in America www.cantab.org
New York Rowing Association www.nyra.org
New York Restoration Project (includes Peter Jay Sharp Boathouse and New Leaf Café) www.nyrp.org