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A long boat tradition

Date Released: Thu, 13 September 2012 14:01 +0200

IN the 1970s there was a boat race on the Kowie River between UCT and Rhodes. This was rowed in September each year and was sponsored by South African Breweries.

In 1980 a challenge was issued by UCT to Wits and a boat race was organised over six-and-a-half kilometres on the Vaal River with television coverage.

The Cambridge University Engineers Association agreed to donate a trophy in the form of a rudder from the St John's College Boat Club. This was decorated with the Shields of Wits and UCT and named the Cambridge Rudder. Wits won the first race by three lengths.

The next two years saw several attempts to change the boat race to an open event for all clubs. The Cambridge Engineers then insisted that the main trophy could only be competed for by university crews and it became the South African Universities Boat Race.

By 1983 Rhodes and Pietermaritzburg had joined in, with the race remaining in the Vaal River. The problem of altitude became increasingly controversial and in 1984 the boat race returned to Port Alfred.

The 1980s saw the Cambridge Rudder change hands between Wits, Maritzburg and UCT. Rhodes struggled in the mid-80s and the UCT second eight used to row against the Rhodes first eight in the SAB Boat Race that took place during the weekend after the South African Universities Boat Race.

In the 1990s Rhodes dominated in the men's main event. They joined Oxford and Cambridge in having won 10 consecutive races before being beaten.

The 1980s also saw the advent of the South African Universities women's boat race over a distance of four-and-ahalf kilometres.

The main similarity between the South African universities' boat race and the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race is that both are rowed over the same distance. The bends on the Kowie River are much more severe than those on the Thames, however.

Some association with the British race has been achieved by the presence of the Cambridge crews on the Kowie River in 1992 and 1999. In 1992 they raced against the South African Olympic crew and lost by four boat lengths.

In 1999 a virus struck down members of the touring Cambridge squad and the crew was unable to race competitively. For a number of years the winners of the boat race competed against both Oxford and Cambridge Universities on the Zambezi.

By Grocott’s Mail staff reporter

Source: Grocott’s Mail

Photo source: Grocott’s Mail

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