Current Affairs

First day of torpids cancelled as the rest of the racing hangs in the balance

Repeated heavy rainfall and the appearance of Storm Dennis has wrought havoc on this year’s Torpids. Just yesterday, the OURCs made the decisive decision to cancel the first day of Torpids.

In light of this decision, Wednesday’s racing is cancelled and the question about whether racing will happen from Thursday to Saturday remains an uncertain one. However, frustrating this may seem for college rowers, the bad weather conditions means that there is no feasible alternative. The only option, it seems, is to wait and see whether the river levels will drop below that familiar red line.

Torpids, the University’s annual winter rowing regatta, normally sees over 130 crews race in 6 men’s divisions and 5 female divisions from the Wednesday to the Saturday of 7th week (this year in 6th week). Safety concerns and the continued red flag have the led the Oxford University Rowing Clubs (OURCs) to change the structure of Torpids.

It was decided earlier in the term that Rowing On would be cancelled. Rowing On is the time trial that would normally occur the Friday before Torpids to determine whether a college’s lower boats can qualify for a place in the competition. However, the consistently high river levels over the past two terms has drastically disrupted the training of novices and new coxes. Thus, the decision to cancel Rowing On was made pragmatically to prevent any safety issues that could derive from the inexperienced crews participating in the competition.

While the river is currently still too high for racing, the OURCs have several contingency plans in place. Indeed, in a second move the decision has been made to cut the lower divisions and allow only the top three divisions to run. By allowing only the most competent crews to race within this amended structure, the OURCs aim to minimise safety risk.

The structure has undergone further changes in regards to the implementation of half-divisions. Where each race will see only 7 boats on the start line rather than the usual 13. This will mean that during Torpids the safety boat per crew ratio will be higher and the risk of collision will be reduced. As Torpids can run on low red flag these changes are necessary to ensure that the competition can run smoothly without incident.

After the controversial vote in the Captains’ Meeting on Monday, the decision to run pseudo Torpids, if weather permits, has been finalised. Pseudo-Torpids is essentially where the races will run as normal from Thursday-Saturday, however the results will not count. This means that the results from Torpids 2020 will be an isolated finishing order. The racing order for Torpids 2021 will carry through from the 2019 finish order.

As was pointed out during the Captains’ Meeting the only way a crew can go during Pseudo-Torpids is down. Indeed, the exception to the ‘no-results carrying through’ decision is penalty bumps. These are bumps that are awarded if a crew breaks the rules or makes a safety violation, however, these are rare. 

The decision to run pseudo-Torpids was unpopular within the top crews, particularly amongst those who were aiming for headship. The criticism of pseudo-torpids is aptly summed up by the Oxrow comment: ‘Rowing is for racing, period.’ Indeed, the issue with pseudo-torpids is that a crew could gain headship and there would be no recognition that this had been achieved.

Pembroke College, in particular, vocalised the opposition to pseudo-torpids. A position that is understandable considering that their men’s and women’s boats are currently second on the river. However, their attempt to amend the motion so that the top division continued racing as normal failed by a large majority. Furthermore, the pseudo-torpid motion in itself was not marginal with 45 votes for pseudo-torpids and 24 against.

In a statement made to The Oxford Blue, PCBC said: “PCBC respects the decision of the captains to run pseudo-Torpids in place of the usual event – and look forward to getting a race if the weather permits. If no racing can be run PCBC has organised a college wide tug of war event all crews would be welcome to attend. The details can be found on our Facebook page.”

PCBC’s statement reflects that however tense the dispute surrounding pseudo-torpids, at the end of the day, with the uncertain river levels, all we can hope for is that we will be able to have the opportunity to race.

The OURCs have said that they will try to give crews at least a day’s notice before cancelling the later days. If worst comes to worst, then there will be an eighth-week contingency where racing will be run on the Thursday and Friday.

Although the loss of four days means that winning blades is virtually impossible, rowers are just hoping to be able to race on the river again. Hopefully the river levels will continue decreasing and the rather sad habit I’ve developed of obsessively refreshing the weather forecast and the Isis river levels will not go unwarranted.