The Varsity Boat Race between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge makes its annual return to the shores of the Thames between Putney and Mortlake today and this time around, if the Oxford cox grabbed an oar, the crews could stage an England v The Rest of the World race. Indeed both boat clubs have swung so far in this direction that the dark blues feature three oarsmen actually from Oxfordshire while Cambridge have an engine room comprised of a trio of our very own. Two of them live in prime Tideway territory, Peter Marsland in Chiswick and Tobias Garnett in Putney, while at Londonist's old position of bow side 3 we find Henry Pelly who was born in Bromley and will be a handy man to have at such a high profile event given his prize winning work on "Terrorism and Military in Politics", though these days he's reading environmental design.
This 154th meeting between the two old adversaries is scheduled to start at 17.15, with the toss taking place at 15.25. The reserve race between the Isis (Oxford) and Goldie (Cambridge) boats will take place at 16.45. Going into the main event, Oxford are strongly favoured to take their third victory in four years. They have the heavier crew and defending champions Cambridge have had to change the Stroke of their boat only days before the race. However, the forecast of twenty mile per hour winds and steady rainfall might once again make a mockery of conventional Boat Race wisdom and you can get some pretty low odds on the prospect of the first sinking since 1978, though Cambridge are sure to have learned the lessons of their surprise narrow defeat in rough conditions two years ago and will have a pump on board to deal with any unwanted aqueous ballast.
An estimated quarter of a million spectators regularly throng the banks along the 4 mile and 374 yards (6,779 m) course and many will be watching from a hostelry en route. However, be warned that there are only 14 of these and that they are all very well known and documented across popular sites such as the BBC, Fluid Foundation and the main race site itself, so if you're not taking your own refreshments make sure you bag a place early.
As last year, Londonist recommends viewing the proceedings via the big screen erected by the local council as part of the Hammersmith and Fulham festival in Furnival Gardens, or perhaps at the alternative set up in Bishops Park. Londonista Jo for one is likely to be found at Furnival once again:
There are toilets (VERY important when all the pubs have queues out of the door), a nice comfy wall to sit on, and a big screen for the pre-race interviews and for watching the race itself. We roll up at some point in the morning with crates of beer, bags of the best budget finger food Mr Tesco has to offer and a stack of trashy magazines to pass the time, and nab a spot with all-important wall access...as the banks of Old Father Thames fill up with spectators, there's a real party atmosphere.
(Check out our exclusive interview with former Cambridge blue and Boat Race umpire Simon Harris on the role of the lead official here).
You might also like to take in another Oxford v Cambridge contest before the racing gets underway. The Varsity football match kicks off at 1:15pm at Craven Cottage, home of Fulham FC and a well known landmark in the early stages of the Boat Race course. Unfortunately all the seats in the Riverside stand which give access to the club's balcony for watching the boating activities have already sold out, but you can pay £8 on the gate (£5 for over 65s and under 21s) to watch the match only from the Johnny Haynes Stand.
Picture of spectators at the 2006 race via mars-hill's Flickr stream.