Blades Rush 1996: The 20th Anniversary

In Michaelmas 1995, a new breed of rower emerged at Lincoln. They shared a gritty determination, an obsession with Top Gun, a distain for sleep and, above all, a burning desire to have their diminutive college pull above its weight on the Isis. That ambition saw them petition LCBCS for new boats and blades, employ the coaching services of OUBC director of rowing Steve Royle, endure winter training camps, trek across the country to regattas, row when no sane person would brave the river, and thrash the ergs in the college gym until the ball-bearings shook loose. Their reward was the 1996 Blades Rush: an unprecedented haul of five blades across Torpids and Eights – and two riotous bumps suppers. Here, in the words of the W1VIII, M1VIII and M2VIII crews, is how they did it.

Matt Hurles, 7, M1VIII

I remember at Cambridge Winter Head when Rick the cox said we were rowing so well he was going to not say anything for a minute. I didn’t believe him, but it was lovely and quiet… Also, rocking up at the boathouse at lunchtime and putting our boat on the water at the precise moment the river opened and having it to ourselves, every day, all year… The last morning of the Eton Dorney winter camp when Rick finally beat Nic and me on the pre-breakfast run – when we were knackered after the three sessions a day regime. A hollow victory, but celebrated nonetheless.

Alison Lea, 4, W1VIII

Ah the glories… I remember using the fact that we only had six people in the 1st Torpid for most of Hilary as motivation to train harder – with blind optimism that the remainder would be found, and frustration that no one would step up from the 2nd Torpid because they didn’t want to train so hard… Captain Jill was a calming influence on everyone… On a frozen early morning, climbing around the gate at Folly Bridge, the loop of my laces got caught over a spike and I ended up hanging upside down rather ingloriously… The fear that our boatman Colin would get it wrong (as if…) and we would plough haplessly into the bank off the start, and the terror when our coach stopped counting down at “five”… I don’t remember the first bump on Wolfson: I just went max out from the gun… And the crew socks, which were conveniently the same colours as my brother’s rugby team’s.

Nick Davies, 3, M1VIII

I remember… Racing on the lake at Coate Water Park regatta – and having to handbrake turn, checking the boat straight after the finish line to avoid certain death on a concrete wall… “Borrowing” the “Welcome to Silverstone” sign on the way back. Is it still in the bar?… Nic switching me to stroke side and struggling to find the water… Steve Royle’s one liners: “Feeling like a dog with two dicks!”… Nothing better than chasing down Oriel II on day three of Torpids – they’ve not recovered since…

Mel Burtoft, 6, W1VIII

Coach Matt “pain is just weakness leaving the body” Hurles; a phrase I have used many times since to show how bloody nails I am… Jill being nicknamed “Robocop” when running for her unstoppable gait… Getting lifted out of the boat after Eights because I couldn’t move… And the knackered old cassette I used to put on at gym sessions: Alison once suggested changing the music – in hindsight, she had a point… Oh, and what about the pre-race tunes? All the “We are rock star demi-gods and must walk out of the boathouse to Danger Zone or Hawaii Five-0.” I kind of wish my ego was still as big now as it was then!

Richard Marwood, Bow, M1VIII

I don’t know what kit the current crew row in – it may be even worse – but the look of our boat then, with the quartered all-in-ones, was certainly striking, particularly topped off with the bleached blonde hairdos of Messrs Harker and Oakhill… For me the biggest memory of bumps has always been the huge silence and nerves in the few seconds before the gun goes. All those hours on the river, in the gym and on the ergs about to be poured into the next five minutes. Rowing is quite cruel in the ratio of time spent training to time spent competing.

Alysa Levene, 3, W1VIII

All my rowing memories have merged into one! I do remember endlessly washing the boat (and Mel confusing us all by talking about the “slurks” we’d left in the suds)… Similarly endless Harvard sculls after outings (which our cox Bob did on one leg after straining a muscle), and our coach Martyn telling the number 2 behind me to shout at me if I (enthusiastic but none too experienced) bombed the slide on the start… Oh, and hearing afterwards that the stroke of one of our bumps had yelled in panic “Lincoln are coming, Lincoln are coming!” as we bore down on them.

Rik Evans, 4, M1VIII

So many memories… Being recorded for the film “True Blue” for sound but no visuals (because of the cleavers not the attractiveness of the crew – honest!)… The camaraderie between the crews – shared experiences, shared devotion and (in some cases) other types of sharing… Crew supper – not sure about the nutritional “sense” of what was consumed – but it built on that sense of “team”. Fortress LCBC!… Top of Division 2, rowing over with a lengthy posers “easy” in front of the boat house… The relief of getting that fourth bump (and screaming); then the slow, triumphant paddle to the boat house to meet the other successful LCBC crews… Getting blades ordered – lying about my weight because I was embarrassed I was so light (happy days!)… Having something to come back to 20 years later – because it meant so much to all of us that we want to celebrate it…

Martin Oakhill, 5, M1VIII

It was the start of some seriously dodgy hair bleaching and beard growing in the Men’s 1st VIII. Some of us are still trying to get it right, eh, Matt, Nick?… I’ve tried to ascertain the key of the success. My conclusion is the socks that Alison got for us – that’s what set us apart. Oh, and jolly good captains and committee members… Memories include the stench of the boy’s dorm at the Dorney training camp. I thought if we could survive a night there and still pull the boat against the stream that week, bumps racing would be a piece of cake… Completing 100km on the erg over the Christmas break… The weight sessions where we would lift to destruction, then keep reducing the weight until we couldn’t even lift the empty bar.

Pilar Bertuzzi, Cox, W1VIII

What I remember about coxing the women in the Summer Eights was the thrill of the chase, watching the hull of the boats ahead wiggle and waver as their crews pulled them away from us and as we moved towards them… I remember always needing to pee at the start of a race and never eating the pasta the night before… I remember the trick of shouting at the cox ahead to concede, which worked almost always… Finally, I remember how lovely our crew was and how we all worked together in unison.

Rick Geer, Cox, M1VIII

The disappointment of arriving for crew dinner and discovering it was green turkey pasta on the menu… Similar to the disappointment the LMH Women’s 1st VIII felt when they realised that they had invited the wrong men’s boat to join them for crew dinner. They’d seen a Lincoln boat dominating the Isis and assumed it was the Men’s 1st boat… Trying to look like I was in control turning the boat against the tide at Eton Dorney in flood conditions as water lapped over the sides. It took 10 minutes to get round… The hours spent calling out Nick for missing the catch and Rik for washing out… Matt collapsing over the side of the boat making retching noises and looking like a cat coughing up a furball at the end of one our more arduous training pieces, and Matt being unaware that Nic was theatrically mimicking him from the seat behind… The panic on the face of the St Catz stroke as a length’s gap disappeared in 10 strokes as we bisected the gut corners and started our push.

Penelope Rance, 7, W1VIII, LCBC Secretary

I remember the pride of taking delivery of our new boat, and naming her Impetus. Then the shame of wrapping her around a post above the Head of the River, when the Isis was red flagged… Being the first Lincoln women’s crew to use cleavers… Rik filling in for us in training: his ponytail was longer than any of ours, which disguised our ringer… Coach Martyn’s girlfriend saying: “They row ugly, but they can bloody pull.”… Our t-shirts: “Float like a butterfly. Pull like a bastard.”… Rowing over ahead of Hertford, thinking, “Where are they?”… The incongruity of slamming a bunch cornflowers, strapped to our bowball, into the boat in front… Needing to overbump on the last day of Torpids, and everyone damn well refusing to quit… Bob’s deadpan “And that’s blades”, as we pulled into the side of the Gut… And seeing my dad and sister cheering on the towpath: they’d run alongside us all the way from the bung line… Painting Donny Bridge in glorious navy and cornflower, “Three Lincoln Blades, Torpids 96”… Winning double blades! And Alysa stylishly chalking our kills in Chapel Quad.

Si Gillett, 7, M2VIII, 2nd VIII Captain

John “Spitfire” Reid on the bung line. I’m glad his feet were strapped in, else I think he would have upped and lamped someone, he was so wired!… And of course double blades in under 100 strokes… But feeling aggrieved that we needed to race past Donny Bridge three times in Eights!… Many thanks to Nick Rawlinson, coach extraordinaire… And the reason why: we trained hard, unlike many of the colleges, which in retrospect played around the edges.

Jill Bister, stroke, W1VIII, Women’s Captain

Endless Harvard sculling (what was the arm bit supposed to achieve?… Possibly Harvard sculling at a Lincoln bop – hazy (despite semi-permanent alcohol bans: why?)… James Denyer’s Lycra-clad cat stretches… Cox Bob’s disgustingly holed trackies: not a good sight from the stroke seat!… Only having six in the 1st Torpid with a few weeks to go, until Nic magicked up some well-hard graduates for us… Realising we were actually quite fast when we bumped the boat in front so hard they started to sink… Winding up to 45 off the start (and generally hitting the boat ahead before we got to the stride)… A whole crew realising that if we put ourselves through more pain than the other boats we would beat them even if they were bigger than us – and doing it.

Nic Harker, Captain of Boats, 5, M1VIII

Loose. As a Goose.


And you can see the proof of it all here: