One Club for the future of rowing at Cambridge University
The ultimate aim remains the same, but the setting and structure to achieve it has taken on a form fit for the future at Goldie Boathouse.
A historic vote in April saw members of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, Cambridge University Boat Club and Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club agree to form a single high-performance rowing club for men and women, openweights and lightweights.
It will go under the banner Cambridge University Boat Club, and came to formation on August 1, with the official launch at the Cambridge University Boat House at Ely yesterday (Tuesday).
“It is exciting to be fair, and that is what enthuses me,” says Simon Harris, chair of the rowing management board of the new CUBC.
“It is also very useful and interesting to see how the different clubs have developed and how the individuals in the different clubs have moved things forward.
“It’s the opportunity to take the best of each. For many of us, change and the opportunity to set up something that is genuinely new is exciting.
“It does present opportunities to make a mark and to do things slightly differently. Some things in life you stick with or manage around because you can’t quite get them right, but when the bigger change comes you can sort out some of the smaller things that otherwise you just live with and accept.
“The bigger change does give us an opportunity to develop things at all levels as we go forward.”
There are two formal entities, one is Cambridge University Boat Club – which manages operations and delivers the crews to their boat races – and then the foundation which, broadly speaking, holds the assets.
Annamarie Phelps is the chair of the club, Nick Bliss is chair of the foundation and Harris is the chair of the rowing management board, which involves working with the coaches and admin teams.
The moniker adopted to bring the three clubs together was One Club, and it was about sharing resources to develop all aspects and enhance the athletes’ experience.
“In the modern world, to have separate clubs for each crew was becoming a complete anathema, certainly the way things operated on the ground,” says Harris.
“It’s quite odd from an external view to expect to row in a club that is just openweight men or just lightweight men. It’s the way clubs are generally structured.
“We’ve heard it through the eyes of students from the United States who look at the club and it is not what they are used to, and it was looking pretty odd.
“It’s the right thing to do to bring the club together and in part of that we’re working more closely with the university as well.
“It’s the approach within the colleges and the university [in a wider setting] to bring people together, and to take away any gender split at all.”
Harris has as broad a viewpoint on the Boat Race as you could imagine.
He was president of the men’s CUBC, rowing for Cambridge in 1982 and 1983, was part of the first umpires’ panel since when it was formed, first officiating the men’s Boat Race in 2000.
His daughter, Lucy, also rowed for Cambridge lightweights, in 2018, having previously coxed at Oxford.
“I’ve been around umpiring all those years so I’ve worked with the Cambridge clubs men and women, lightweight men and women, and the Oxford clubs – men and women, openweight and lightweight – so I’ve known nearly all the coaches and the assistant coaches from time spent on the Tideway,” he says.
“You just see it from a different angle again, and I think that broad view and range of experience helps – and is possibly why I was tapped on the shoulder in the first place.”
Since Harris was at the boat club, the overall relationship with the university has transformed and they are much closer now, evidenced by vice-chancellor Professor Stephen Toope’s visit to Ely on Tuesday.
In many ways, the facility on the River Great Ouse was an important part of bringing the clubs closer together – and a forerunner to them becoming one.
“If you think back to the new boat house in Ely, as soon as we built it and the men’s and women’s squads started boating from the same boat house then they meet each other between outings it begins to engender the feeling of unity and a single club,” says Harris.
“Then it becomes even odder that we’re actually different clubs in the same boathouse so I think the boat house is the totem that has brought us together.
“The structure is just possibly a logical follow on from what is happening on the ground.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of pooling resources and knowledge has been bringing together the combined talents of all the squads.
It has meant changes of personnel to create a tighter unit, with some having to take a step back and others opting to, but it has meant new blood also getting involved.
“What has been really gratifying is the enthusiasm and commitment from so many people, ranging in ages from relatively recent Blues to people who rowed like myself nearly 40 years ago, to others who aren’t actually Blues, some people who have just been associated with the club,” says Harris.
“That enthusiasm and commitment is brilliant, and if we can capture that – and I think we can – then the future is really bright.”
It will also be a vital factor in that ultimate aim which, if you had not guessed, is to beat Oxford in the boat races.