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  Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 15:00 GMT
Got those sinking Blues
Oxford start to sink during the 1951 University Boat Race
Oxford get that sinking feeling in 1951
By Mark Davies

This year's University Boat Race marks the 50th anniversary to the day of a unique event in its long history.

On 24 March, 1951, the race was, for the first and only time, re-rowed because one of the crews - on this occasion Oxford - sank.

Each crew has gone under before - Cambridge most recently in 1978 - and in 1912, the race was re-scheduled because both crews failed to finish.

But in 1951, it happened before the end of the Fulham Wall, and by the rules of the event, any equipment failure before that point means the race has to start again.

Two days later, Cambridge won by 12 lengths.

Its crew was dubious about whether sinking constituted an "equipment failure", and to this day they joke that it was all down to inferior rowing.

But umpire Gerald Ellison, a former Oxford Blue who went on to become Bishop of London, ordered the re-row, and no-one argued.

It had been rough weather all week in Putney, and as Oxford approached their stakeboat, a narrow squall developed.

Advantage

Because they were on the Surrey station, the Dark Blues couldn't move towards calmer water.

The crew on that side have a stationary line of boats on one side and the opposition on the other.

Oxford had actually chosen that station - it is considered to give a slight advantage.

Cambridge pull ahead in the 1994 Race in calm, sunny conditions
This year's crews will be hoping for calmer waters
They knew they were racing a better crew, and wanted to have the big Hammersmith bend in their favour.

The Dark Blues, stroked by Christopher Davidge, tried to row on valiantly after taking on water, but it soon became obvious it was impossible.

There was one minor reason for panic - their cox couldn't swim - but on the whole the crew just felt complete resignation.

Cambridge rowed on as far as the Mile Post before the umpire declared a "no race".

Reflecting many years later, Davidge said: "The fact was Cambridge were an extremely good crew.

"We would never have won whether we'd had easy water or the kind of situation that we did have."

The Light Blues admit now that they might well not have made the finish line themselves.

Fifty years on, the crews are unlikely to face such problems.

These days, the boats can be fitted with small pumps to bale them out, if conditions look treacherous.

But the water is always a lot more choppy during the race than you can tell from the TV pictures, and you can never rule anything out for certain on the Tideway...

The 147th University Boat Race is being broadcast live in Grandstand on BBC One 24 March from 1300GMT

BBC Sport Online will stream the action live and the race can also be heard on BBC Five Live

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Christopher Davidge
Talking to Mark Davies about the 1951 sinking
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