BOAT Race-winning cox Jack Tottem has had a bird’s eye view of the build-up to this year’s 168th varsity clash, going head-to-head with both Blue Boats in the run-up to the Sunday, March 26 encounter.
The Wye steersman, who learnt to row at Monmouth School, steered a turbo-powered Oxford crew to victory in the 167th race last April.
And in two private matches steering for top British club Leander, he took on the Light Blues again last month before a titanic struggle with his alumni club Oxford.
He again got the better of the Light Blues in two separate pieces on the Tideway, with the latest crop of Pink Palace talent showing loads of potential.
Starting at the traditional Boat Race start in Putney, the first race was around 2.5-miles through Hammersmith Bridge and on to Chiswick steps.
Cambridge, on the Middlesex side with the advantage of the first bend around Fulham football ground, got off to a strong start and led Leander in the initial stages.
But Tottem’s crew were in a good strong rhythm and drew back level around the outside of the bend and continued to move through as the river swung their way into the Surrey bend to take the first race by clear water with the verdict being one-and-a-half lengths.
The second race started from Chiswick Steps to the Boat Race finish just before Chiswick Bridge, a distance of around 1 3/4 miles.
Leander got off to a better start and led by 1/2L early on with the rest of the Surrey bend advantage, before the river swung back to Cambridge on the inside from the Bandstand on.
It was nip and tuck with the Wales cox keeping his crew’s bows just in front, but a Leander crab in the last few strokes brought the crews even closer, with the Henley outfit just holding on to win by 1/4L.
Earlier this month, Leander returned to the Tideway to chance their arm with the Dark Blues, with the conditions on the water testing in the extreme.
In a fantastic race streamed live on the Boat Race website, the lead changed hands three times, but this time the Old Monmothian steersman’s boat had to give second best.
Racing 2 3/4 miles from the Boat Race start to Chiswick Steps, Oxford on the Surrey station were first to show moving out to a 1/2L lead.
But with neither cox giving an inch in the battle for the fastest water, and Olympic medal umpire Sarah Winckless shouting out repeated warnings, Leander slowly began to move back and hit the front on the inside of the Middlesex bend just over three minutes in.
Tottem tried everything to crowd the Dark Blues out as Leander moved out to nearly a length advantage.
But with the water roughening and the river turning Oxford’s way into the Surrey bend, the Dark Blues’ cleaner blade work began to make inroads on the Pink Palace lead.
There was just a seat in it at Hammersmith Bridge and within another minute Oxford had 1/2L.
Heading towards Chiswick Eyot, it was now a battle of survival, with both boats being knocked off their stride by big waves.
Oxford steered right across Leander in the final minute, prompting the umpire to shout yet more warnings and Tottem to appeal at the finish, reached in just under 11 minutes.
But the Dark Blues were ruled not to have interfered and took the verdict by 1 1/4L, which probably puts them as favourites for the 168th Boat Race on Sunday, March 26.
Wales and GB cap Sam Bannister went one better in his Oxford Brookes fixtures with the Blue Boats, winning both.
In the first up derby clash with the Dark Blues for Isis bragging rights, Brookes won the toss and chose Middlesex.
There was an initial fight for control over the stream, but after some clean, composed rowing in tricky conditions, Bannister’s boat edged away to win by 3L.
For the second piece from the Eyot to the Boat Race finish, Brookes remained on the Middlesex station and despite a competitive start from the Blue Boat, their rivals broke clear on the inside of the final bend to take the win by 2L.
Brookes then took on the Light Blues a week later in two pieces over the same stretches.
In the first piece in difficult conditions, both crews started strongly with Cambridge taking a 1/4L lead by the end of Putney Embankment before Brookes on Middlesex inched back through on the outside of the bend to lead at Hammersmith.
And they kept moving out to open water to win by 2 1/2L.
In the second piece, there was some dramatic clashing with both crews being warned to remain on station.
Brookes established an early lead and by the Bandstand were 1L to the good.
Around Barnes, Cambridge made a spirited effort to push back, but Brookes were able to power away to win by 1 3/4L.
You can watch the Oxford v Leander race on the Boat Race YouTube channel.
Boat Race coverage on BBC1 this Sunday (March 26) starts at 3.30pm.
Photos Benedict Tufnell/Row 360 and Oxford Brookes BC.