Your Holiday SSBC Digest – Belated race reports from Fairbairns ’19

From us all to each and every one of you, a merry Christmas! Here’s a gift for your digital stocking. Reading and reminiscing belongs to the festive season. Reading and reminiscing about SSBC, however, transgresses all such seasonal limitation. SSBC love is perennial.

Still, who would not appreciate the timing: we now have the time we’ve all longed for, to properly sit down and read something inspiring. That is not to dissuade you of throwing in a few solid ergs at this time of year. Laziness is foreign to us, is it not so, dear Sidneyites?

Here’s a ration of inspiration for you: the race reports from Cheadle, Woods and Overvoorde. Enjoy with a cup of mulled wine, I suggest.


After seven weeks of training together, Cheadle’s final outing had arrived: the Fairbairn Cup.

Fuelled up on coffee, breakfast and numerous snack bars, we met at the boat house attempting not to freeze in the cold wind. With both Anna and Una unable to make the race, we were hugely grateful for our subs: Emma (who was injured and hadn’t rowed all term!) and Camille (one of our very own coaches!), both wearing their own Fairbairns stash from back when they noviced!

We marshalled to the start line with minutes to spare, successfully pulling off a wobbly (but thankfully dry!) switcheroo – our stroke, Sophie, had to meet us later to jump into the boat… we’d all been low-key panicking that she wouldn’t make it there in time, but luckily it all worked out in the end! Special shoutout to Charlie for filling the extra seat (hidden under a bobble hat disguise!) while we waited!

The bag of Starbursts made many rounds up and down the boat during our long (and freezing!) wait to race, made all the more entertaining by watching the Homerton crew ahead perform a hilarious selection of Queen medleys. And then it was time to race…

Louder than ever, Trisha pushed us through our race start and we quickly settled into the strong and steady rhythm set by Sophie. Joe and Katy gave us the best bank party we could’ve asked for, cheerleading, screaming and reminding us constantly to DRAW INTO THE BRA-LINE! We quickly lost sight of the boat chasing us, and had begun to catch up to the boat ahead by the time we reached the reach…

Once under the railway bridge Trisha screamed encouragement to empty everything we had with a power 10… and then another power 10… and just one more power 10…and a final push… and just one more power ten…? And we FINALLY flew across the finish line!

Miraculously we avoided any major crabs, even if we were all more than a little soaked at the end! After a short break at the top of the reach, we began our celebratory row-back featuring a hilarious mixture of double feathering, victory rolls and even some gecko rowing — we certainly kept the other boats entertained!

Having survived the row home, we were delighted to discover that we placed 17th out of 51 boats – a huge achievement and something we’re all really proud of! A huge thank you to Camille and Katy for being such enthusiastic and encouraging coaches, to our fab subs for enabling us to compete, and to Trisha and our brilliant bank party for providing constant motivation. We’ve loved our term rowing together and look forward to a new challenge as seniors next term…

— Heather Rowland, 5 seat


Coxswain —  Jenny Hwang
Stroke — Jonas Isensee
7 — John Michienwicz
6 — Rodrigo Cordova
5 — Iain Ritchie
4 — Niccolo Ciarlini
3 — Nick Pasternack
2 — Andrew Ó hEachteirn
Bow — Felix Kiefner

Thursday 5 December began bitterly cold, with a thick blanket of fog resting on the Cam and adjacent meadows.  Until the night before it had not been clear whether Woods’ would be able to present a full team; Kiefner in Bow had contracted a severe bout of Manthrax the previous weekend and had not been able to row earlier in the week.  Kiefner’s illness followed a succession of absences and Fairbairns 2019 marked not only Woods’ last outing of Michaelmas, but also their first outing on the Cam as a full team in a little under three weeks.  

It was no surprise then that Woods’ made a less than seamanlike arrival at the Fairbairn’s marshalling point:  A last-minute repair on their boat, Lord Protector, had delayed their departure from Sidney’s boathouse.  Their arrival delayed the start of the race and the team were subjected to the wrath of the marshals and one notably irate Jesus student who remained visibly distressed until Woods’ left the wall 40 minutes later.  Fuelling a volatile situation further, the team made a somewhat ungracious and uncoordinated passage past the cold waiting teams to their berth alongside Cambridge 99 Rowing Club.  

The marshal’s may be forgiven for thinking that the Fairbairns race had taken the Woods’ boat entirely by surprise.  It had not, but the team continued to reinforce that narrative when they were called forward and invited to start: They did not do so.  Having not quite heard the marshal, Hwang, the coxswain politely queried whether the marshal would like her to set off only to be told ‘… YES – GET GOING SIDNEY!!’  It is not clear whether the still irate member of Jesus College exploded or suffered a cardiac arrest at this point, because all attention turned to the powerful and beautifully coordinated departure of Lord Protector in the hands of the Woods’ team down river at best speed. 

Surprising themselves and all around them, Woods’ made brisk and confident progress downstream quickly closing the distance on the Fitzwilliam boat (NM3 No.133) ahead.  As Woods’ passed Logan’s Meadow to port and the Technology Museum to starboard, Pasternack in 3 took a crab to be followed immediately by Ó hEachteirn in 2.  The boat slowed and Ó hEachteirn took firm control of Pasternack to reset both blades in front of each rower.   Perhaps spurred on by the setback, perhaps fired up by the irrepressible leadership of Hwang in Cox, Woods’ quickly regained their composure.  As the river opened, their pace picked up.  They caught the meandering Fitzwilliam boat ahead, comfortably overtaking them under the Railway Bridge so that Woods’ entered Long Reach half a length in front, passing the finishing marker at speed and in style.

As a result of their unseamanlike arrival and hesitant start, Woods’ were awarded a 7 second penalty.  Nonetheless, they completed Fairbairns in 12.23 seconds.  Although not a silverware time, the personal achievement should not be underestimated:  Over the eight weeks of Michaelmas, coaches Tyler and Svenungsson have turned a rather uninspiring, rag-tag and dysfunctional group of non-rowers into a steely, Fitz-beating rowing crew.  For anybody unfortunate enough to own a houseboat during their first outing this was a remarkable feat.

— Iain Richie, 5 seat


As the novice term drew to a close the final challenge for the Overvoorde crew was a mere 2.7km sprint down the Cam – Fairbairns! After our success at Queens’ Ergs and Emma Sprints (sort of), the pressure was on. We had done this distance just once on the erg, so feeling almost over-prepared and hyper-confident, the Overvoorde crew, joined by our fabulous (and fearless) subs Eleanor and our beloved coach Lora, hopped into Tomminox for our last cruise on the cam.

Once all of Laura’s (seat 7) snacks had been stowed in the cubby (I think she thought Noah was still preparing for the flood), we were on our way. All was good on board Overvoorde as we headed down towards Jesus Green, with Effy, our up-and-coming Stroke, deftly sitting the boat, meanwhile the other half of Stern pair, evidently daydreaming, managed to crab whilst not even rowing – impressive!! In true Overvoorde style we kept up morale during marshalling and started to make our way through the snacks. We were pulled up near a raucous Homerton crew, “singing” Christmas songs, our bow pair (Georgina and Celeste) couldn’t help themselves and joined in; the rest of Overvoorde maintained their stern composure.

Now to the race. Up at the start Louis was getting his line whilst the marshal told us to stay in the middle, helpful. Finally, we were ready. And then… the cox box died. After some engineering genius (I think he shook it a bit) the cox box was resurrected, and we were off!!

Following a narrow run-in with a houseboat, Louis secured his line and we began putting down some real power. From then on our stunning cox skilfully guided us around every corner. The race itself is somewhat a blur but I’m sure we did it and I know everyone put in their all. The one recurring memory of the race is the endless “POWER TEN” from our Louis, as if he enjoyed seeing our straining face as we yeeted it down the reach. There was a collective sigh as we crossed the finish and it wasn’t long before we turned up some S Club 7 and the true potential of the cox box was realised.

Training and racing with these ladies has honestly been such a pleasure, we have had . Of course, Overvoorde’s rowing competence is all down to the patience and commitment of our coaches Abi and Lora, we love you both dearly! All that is left to say, is to wish everyone a happy new year from Overvoorde. See you on the river next year!

— Laura Bailey, 7 seat

And… Here’s some bonus content! One of Sidney’s (more or less) Three Wise (Wo-)Men, Camille Lardy, Stroke of W1, wrote a splendid BCD speech. For all you real SSBC fans out there, we wanted to communicate this grand piece of rhetoric and wit, and especially, to save for future generations the poetry at the end of her speech. Listen up!

At the very start of term when I was put in stroke seat I made the mistake of joking to Emma, who was the previous stroke of W1, that I might make my BCD speech entirely in limericks. Emma hasn’t let me forget that, but I regret to have to admit that I row better than I rhyme. Therefore I’ll conclude this speech with a limerick, but you’ll forgive me if the rest is in standard prose.

As is usual in Michaelmas term, when a lot of previous SSBC members have graduated and left, W1 started the term with a mix of rowers who had not previously rowed together: some were from last Mays’ W2, others from last Mays’ W1, Joe came to us from the men’s side, and Marie had only just arrived from Germany — on our first outing, she warned us that she’d never been coxed in English.

So the first few weeks were spent discovering each other, and each others’ strengths. It became clear that some among the crew have been rowing together for a very long time: if you put Abi and Anna in the same pair, they can do slap-catches in time like they share a single brain. The rest of us can only dream of such synchronicity. Some among the crew are also outstandingly motivated: so keen was she to row that Marie turned up at the boat house despite the outing being cancelled. Not once, but twice.

So it is with this mix of fantastic girls that we started training at the start of term, mainly in boats of four to work on technique and strength in smaller groups. But even though we were split into these smaller boats, we were always made to feel part of the wider whole of W1. This feeling of being part of something bigger than our little boats of four, something bigger than ourselves, was mainly due to Joe, our amazing cox, who never lost the habit of telling us “alright, on the next stroke we’re going to take it up to eights”.

It’s in the four that W1 had its first race of term: Winter Head, which is a British Rowing event open to crews coming from far beyond Cambridge. While we were training, we thought that our knowledge of the River Cam would give an advantage over all of those crews coming from far away. But then during a race training session, I started having some doubts. We were down at the Lock, and our coach Tim tells us that we’re going to do a practice race piece from the Lock to the Railway Bridge. And then I hear behind me, Katy, our Vice-Captain, who’s been here for a while, asking in a sort of wondering tone: “The Railway Bridge…. is that far…?” This is the same Katy, by the way, who showed up on the day of Winter Head —our big race, for which the rest of us had cracked out the racing onesies and SSBC kit — who turned up to Winter Head wearing a random tank top, because, quote, she’d “forgotten today was anything special”.

As it is, Winter Head went really well: we were chased off the start by a women’s four from another uni, who went off like madwomen and started catching us on the straight bit of First Post Reach, but then as soon as we hit the corners, Joe’s knowledge of First Post, Grassy and Ditton gained us a massive advantage and we ended up beating that crew by quite a lot. In the end, we placed in the fastest third of all women’s coxed fours, and we’re very proud.

After Winter Head, we started training in the VIII rather than the fours. By that point, we’d had a month or so to get to know our coaches, and their respective styles. It turns out that both Emma and Tim, our coaches, have favourite exercises and are therefore quite predictable. With Emma, you can expect to do some feet-out rowing —so much so that we now call it her “foot fetish”. With Tim, you can expect to do some high-rate pieces, if not very high or overrate pieces. This trend was verified on one morning when the two of them were coaching us together, and asked us to do a high-rate piece with all of bow four taking their feet out.

But all of this hardcore coaching served us well for Fairbairns: Having not had an outing in 8s in a week, and having two ill or injured rowers, it could have gone badly, especially considering the horrendous crosswind today. But instead all the training clicked together and we put into practice two of the key points Tim always insists on: accelerating to the finish, and sticking to a high rate. We set off at rate 32, with good suspension and acceleration, and every time we dropped to rate 30, Joe made us build it back up again. This, combined with Joe’s extra tight corners, served us well for the first half of the race. Passing the Green Dragon Footbridge and all the way past the P&E, Joe called for pair pushes: everyone responded fantastically, but it’s when 5 and 6 were called on that we started to really fly. Feeling Abi and Lora put in so much effort really motivated us for the second half of the race; which we finished with a massive push at rate 34 in the final 150m. Ultimately, we came 8th out of the 30 or so college women’s crews, beating heavyweights such as Pembroke W1, Queens’ W1, First and Third W1, and Murray Edwards W1. To give you a sense of perspective, the last time Sidney were in the Top 10 of Fairbairns in an eight was 2010.

So overall, a huge thank you for a fantastic term to my crew mates: Katy, Abi, Lora, Eve, Marie, Cath, Anna, and Alice: thank you for all your efforts this term and for never letting the power drop off. Special thanks to Joe, our cox, who’s been crucial in our progression as a team: thank you for putting up with my face all term, and for knowing almost better than us, what rate and effort is “sustainable”. A massive thank you to Abi, our Women’s Captain, who organised all this, in fours and in eights with changing schedules and crew orders: thank you for all the extra work you put into W1. And finally, all the gratitude to our coaches, Tim and Emma, for their idiosyncratic but very effective styles of coaching, and for their belief in our potential. And to conclude, the limerick that I’d promised to Emma:

There once was a rower called Emma
Whose rib got cracked, causing drama
She took up coaching instead
And the power went to her head
And now she’ll have us rowing feet-out forevah

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