Boat Race: Sinking fears lead to call for postponement

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"The Boat Race has always started at the appropriate time." This was the response of the organiser, Howard Jacobs, to the Port of London Authority's suggestion that he should consider postponing the race for a day because of an appalling weather forecast.

For the Boat Race Company, who pay the PLA to close the river to all traffic for the race, the show must go on. "The only people who could stop it are the police, on the grounds of safety," Jacobs said. "But sinking presents no danger to either of such well-prepared crews."

His hope is that if a sinking should occur, it happens after the Fulham Wall on the Middlesex side of Putney Reach runs out. After that point, a re-row is not permitted.

Tomorrow's race is scheduled for 4.35 pm, when the promised 17 to 21mph south-westerly may veer to the west. Either direction will be head or cross-head for the crews. A west wind will rough up the start, Chiswick Reach and the finish. A south-westerly will cause mayhem before Hammersmith and between Chiswick Eyot and Barnes.

A different station may be the best choice for each scenario, but opinion as to which choice to make differs. The dilemma is compounded by the fact that the toss takes place an hour and a half before the race, when it is impossible to tell what the water or the wind will do.

Yesterday was the calm before the storm. Oxford and Cambridge took short outings, doing light work on technique, and superb they are too. Cambridge demonstrated a flowing stroke which sent their boat through rough or smooth water like a torpedo. Oxford's bodywork was a mixture of the sublime and the eccentric, but their bladework also impressed. Both are fit to take the race to four-and-a-quarter miles. In the event, choice of station may not matter.

The choice for the president - Tom Edwards for Cambridge, Barney Will-iams for Oxford - who wins the toss will be whether to choose shelter at the start or towards the finish.

If the weather is rough, the boats in use are designed with individual watertight compartments designed for buoyancy. This renders a pump ineffective.

The only way to prevent the cavities round the feet filling up is by fitting splash guards, rowing well in the rough, or making steering contingencies. Experience will therefore count tomorrow, and here Cambridge have the advantage of five men and a cox who have been here before.

Each university has sunk three times, the most recent being Cambridge in 1978. The only occasion on which the race has been postponed for a day was in 1984, when Cambridge hit a barge and wrecked their boat just before the start.