Boat Race 2021: Charlie Marcus guides a different course coxing Cambridge University in Ely
“While it is a straight course, we’re steering something that is the length of a double decker bus with something that is smaller than a credit card.”
In a simple sentence, Cambridge University men’s cox Charlie Marcus sums up the challenges that will be faced by those steering the crews on the River Great Ouse in Ely on Easter Sunday.
Plenty of discussion has been had about the straight course in the Fens, and how different it is to the demands of the Championship Course on the Tideway in London and the long, sweeping bends of the Thames.
Giving a little bit more depth to the challenges faced with the steering, and the obstacle of a narrower river, Marcus explains: “Every time you touch the steering, the boat slows down so it is still mightily important that we steer straight and give our rowers the best shot of getting to the finish line first.
“A lot of the role on the Tideway is to do with analysing the conditions at that point because you go round bends, and you might have a tailwind at one point and then you go into a crosswind and then you go into a headwind.
“Here it is just going to be one set of conditions where you’re not going to have those adjustments to make but even though that is the case, it’s pretty windy and there will be gusts so that element is still there.
“Fundamentally, rowing is rowing. A fast boat speed translates to anywhere. Whilst this is very different to the Thames where the stream is a little bit faster, it is still rowing and we’ve just got a straight course.
“International racing is done in a 2,000m straight course and that is the best test of raw boat speed. The course we’ve got here is 5km in a straight line, it’s a pretty good test of pure boat speed. There are no complications, no bends to get in the way of that.”
Marcus, 21, is in his third year studying engineering at Trinity College, and has trialled since arriving at Cambridge.
He took up the sport at Hampton School, representing Great Britain in the 2016 Coupe De La Jeunesse, and was inspired about the possibilities of competing in the Boat Race by Hampton alumnus Sam Collier, who coxed the Oxford Blue boat in 2017.
“I remember at that point seeing the pathway he had done, and the pathway that I could potentially do, that it was a possibility for me if I could do the academics and get in, and then succeed in a sporting sense to get in,” says Marcus.
In his first year, he coxed the reserve Goldie crew to victory and was then chosen for the Blue boat last year, but the race was cancelled because of the pandemic.
It was difficult to deal with, given that they had trained for seven months for something that did not happen, but it helped the squad bond.
“The anniversary of the race being cancelled, we had a virtual get-together and remembered our shared trauma throughout,” says Marcus.
“It really brought us together well, and brought us well into this season because we’ve had a really good atmosphere supporting each other, from the top guy to the bottom guy.
“It’s been pretty hard having to cut the squad down into 12 rowers and two coxes and not having most of the reserves around.”
Training this season has been impacted by the lockdowns in November, January and February, before they were granted elite sports exemption to return, but the work they did in the early months of the programme has stood them in good stead.
“We still had people coming and going in quarantines, but on the water when you’re in the boats together relationships form naturally,” he adds.
“We’ve definitely been affected – we haven’t been able to do a lot of the things you would want to do – but we’re a strong, close-knit team.”