The Cambridge crew were out yesterday practising starts and doing pretty exercises to assimilate their new stroke, Ryan Monaghan, into the crew ahead of tomorrow's 154th Boat Race.
Monaghan was hoicked out of the reserve Goldie crew on Wednesday evening when Shane O'Mara was declared unfit to race on medical grounds. News of the change sent jitters through the Cambridge camp and raised the tails of Oxford, last year's losers, who remain narrow favourites for the Race.
But on the flat water yesterday morning, the change of stroke – "the most exposed member of the crew," according to Duncan Holland, Cambridge's coach – looked seamless. The occupant sets the rhythm and the rate of striking (or strokes per minute), and is the only oarsman in direct communication with the cox. It is thus crucial that the stroke responds to what the cox can see, and that he can judge whether those behind him can stay with the pace he sets. He also needs to be a tenacious racer and cool in battle – this is not a seat for a quitter.
Monaghan, who rowed at Cornell University before Cambridge, will need all his nerve if the forecast of a 21mph southwesterly comes to pass tomorrow. That means strong wind opposed to tide in Putney Reach at the start, and a murderous maelstrom in the third mile of the race between Hammersmith and Barnes bridges.
This may give John Garrett, the umpire, a headache, too. There are now 11 navigation buoys in place between Putney and Mortlake, and some of the red ones on the Surrey station will challenge coxes and umpire alike. In the Boat Race, the centre of the course is the centre of the tide. If the crews are side-by-side and seeking shelter to avoid sinking, can the Middlesex cox push the Surrey cox inside the buoys?
Will he or she try to force the opponent into bad water? These are the questions that will face Garrett. He is the one member of the umpires' panel who has inflicted the ultimate penalty in a race when he disqualified Isis, Oxford's reserves, after a clash in Goldie's water in 1990.
Meanwhile, the indisposed O'Mara is back in Cambridge. The American who rowed for Northeastern University, Boston, is suffering from exercise-induced arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm). The good news is that it cannot be passed on to the rest of the crew.
Revised Cambridge Crew: Bow C Scott (RGS Worcester and Trinity Hall) 13 st 8 lbs, T Perkins (Univ of Western Aust, Australia, and Jesus) 15 st 0 1/4 lbs, H Pelly (Newcastle Univ and St Edmund's) 13 st 12 3/4 lbs, T Garnett (KCS Wimbledon and Trinity) 14 st 10 1/2 lbs, P Marsland (Nottingham Univ and Clare Hall) 16 st 0 1/2 lbs, T Ransley (King's Canterbury and Hughes Hall) 15 st 10 3/4 lbs, T Edwards* (Univ of Tasmania and Caius) 13 st 11 lbs, Stroke R Monaghan (Cornell, US, and St Edmund's) 15 st 3 lbs, Cox Rebecca Dowbiggin* (Impington Int 6th Form Coll and Emmanuel) 7 st 9 1/2 lbs. Av 14 st 10 5/8 lbs. *denotes BlueReuse content