Amber de Vere and Sophie Philbrick

Got the Blues: Somerville Women’s rowing heads upstream

Two of Somerville’s women rowers were awarded Blues in 2014, following their performances at the Henley Regatta. This year Amber de Vere (2012, Biological Sciences) received a full Blue and Sophie Philbrick (2011, Biological Sciences) a half-Blue, as the women’s boat and women’s lightweight boat both beat Cambridge.

But women’s rowing within Somerville has also enjoyed success over the past year, after slipping from fourth to fourteenth in ‘Head of The River’ between 2007 and 2012. Last year the women’s first boat narrowly missed earning ‘blades’ – awarded for ‘bumping’ on each day of the competition and not being bumped – in the last inter-Collegiate Summer Eights. Moreover, Somerville women’s first boat clocked wins this academic year in Autumn Fours as well as the Nepthys regatta.

This year the crew has a new coach in Michael Landers. It will also begin the 2014 Summer Eights at the top of Division Two, with Division One firmly in its sights. Several of the crew members had never rowed before arriving in Oxford, including Amy Fairchild (2012, Biological Sciences). (You can follow the crew’s progress on Twitter and Facebook by simply following ‘Somerville College Boat Club’.)

“You arrive in Oxford and then turn up for a taster session,” said Amy Fairchild, Secretary of the Somerville College Boat Club. “Then you get the rowing bug. It’s great fun because both the men’s and women’s crews really come together and there’s always a great atmosphere at Summer Eights, with a healthy dose of College rivalry.”

Amy is currently organising a Boat Club dinner for 31 May, the last Saturday of Eights. Alumni rowers will also be invited. (For details or to book, please email Amy at amy.fairchild@some.ox.ac.uk.)

Rising tide

To reach Division One, the women’s first boat will need to ‘bump’ the next boat down into division two. There are hopes the crew can return women’s rowing at Somerville to its former glories – Somerville women have been ‘Head of the River’ in Summer Eights on eight occasions, which remains the record in Oxford women’s rowing. These wins came in the years 1980-81, 1986-87 and 1990-93.

The major challenges faced by the women’s crews at Somerville are two-fold: rising in the ranks, and securing funding for better equipment. Somerville is currently one of the most expensive College boat clubs to belong to, while a number of Colleges can offer membership “virtually free”, according to Fairchild.

In 2012, a generous donation from John Nicoll, whose late wife Frances was an alumna of Somerville College, secured a boat for the men’s first crew . The crew went on to win blades in the 2013 Summer Eights.

For Somerville’s women rowers, however, the funding challenge lies ahead of them.

“By the time I leave, I’d love us to have won some more blades to add to the collection above the new college bar and to own a new women’s boat,” said Fairchild.

Before that, however, all eyes will be fixed on the final week of May, when the crew is aiming to reach the first division in the Summer Eights, a challenge made all the more significant by the cancellation of this year’s ‘Torpids’, the other main inter-Collegiate rowing competition, due to flooding.

For details of how to support women’s rowing at Somerville, please contact Sara Kalim, Development Director at sara.kalim@some.ox.ac.uk

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