Cross Channel racing with Oxford and Cambridge

Their boat race is more famous, but this bi-annual contest between Britain’s two most famous universities could potentially be more exciting.

Since 1998, teams of swimmers from Oxford and Cambridge have gone head-to-head across the stretch of water that separates England from France, and their relays routinely post some of the fastest crossings each year.

To date, Oxford has won four times, Cambridge three times and a draw has been declared twice. Because of the slightly imprecise nature of timing of cross-Channel swims, the race is deemed a draw if the two teams finish within two minutes of each other, which happened in their first race and again the last time they raced in 2014. In most years the winning margin is small, often less than 20 minutes on a race that routinely takes between 8 and 10 hours. On only one occasion has a team failed to finish (Cambridge, 2012). Each team is mixed (three men and three women) and there are two reserves.

The next contest is scheduled for July 2016.

Matilda (Tilly) Ansell, who is Oxford University’s Swimming Club’s Publicity Officer says: “The team has been training really hard in the pool at least four times a week and up at Queensford Lakes. Most of the team also did a sea swim on training camp in January in temperatures of 12 degrees which helped contribute to selection of the team. Selection for the team was based on previous open water swimming experience, the training camp sea swim and general enthusiasm (despite the threat of freezing water and jellyfish). Obviously as part of the Oxford team I rate our chances pretty well but know that the Cambridge team are likely to be training hard too so it looks to be a good, strong race.”

Meanwhile, Laura Schubert, the Cambridge team captain, says: “Our team this year looks incredibly strong and motivated. Each of our swimmers has had previous open water experience, either through triathlon or independent open water swimming. Across the team we have great speed as well as experience, and through training are building up a supportive team spirit. Last time there was a draw, so it will be very interesting to see what happens this time around.”

Cambridge are swimming with Reg Brickell on the Viking Princess (CSA) while Oxford are with Neil Streeter on Suva (CS&PF).

Both teams are keen to point out the fund-raising aspect of their swims. They jointly ran a crowd funding campaign to help cover the costs of the race and garnered support from friends, family and previous swimmers. In addition, the Cambridge team are fundraising for CUCRAG, a Cambridge University charity helping refugees in Calais.

“This is because as we train and struggle to be able to cross the channel, so many other people are hoping to do the same coming the other way,” says Schubert. “But while doing so they need help and support as they wait in the Calais Camps. We will be supporting CUCRAG through publicity and a joint fundraising event, as the charity’s work of sending students to help (building, cleaning or sorting and distributing donated goods) in Calais every two weekends provides a vital labour resource that is needed at the refugee camps there.”

Find out more:

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Members of Team Oxford: left to right is Marisa, Freddie, George, James, Naomi and Tilly

Oxford University Relay Channel Swim Team 2016

Naomi Vides

Women’s wetsuit category ‘Sea Horse Swim’ winner, on the Henley Mile swim varsity winning team for last two years, competed in the 2014 channel relay swim.

Steph Millin

Oxford water polo player with open water swimming experience

Tilly Ansell

3k open water county champ 2013

Marisa Schubert (reserve)

First female oxford university student to swim the channel solo

Dan Manners

Winner of the Henley mile varsity swim 2015, 1500m swimmer

James Manning

OUSC swimmer with open water swimming experience

George Stannard

Ex-junior national champion for 1.5k open water

Freddie Faulkner (reserve)

Competed in the 2014 channel relay swim, well versed in open water swimming


Team Cambridge

The Cambridge team, after an early season training outdoor training session, including reserves

Cambridge University Relay Channel Swim Team

Rebecca Hughes

Competed in the Varsity team for the university swimming club, and does cross country and triathlon at university.

Jessica Mason

Current swimming captain of Cambridge University triathlon club and was awarded a Full Blue for triathlon in 2015, having raced in sprint and full triathlons.

Lydia Woodward

Competed in the Varsity team for the University Swimming club four times and holds three half blues, and she has done several 10km open water swims (River Dee and Salford Quay) as well as competed for Cambridge at the Henley Swim.

Laura Schubert – Captain

Competed in Varsity for the Cambridge Water Polo team, and has competed for the university at BUCS in rowing, doing lots of rowing training with her college.

Matthew Chadwick

Competes for the University Seconds Water polo team and has completed a multitude of open water swims up to distances of 10km (Eton Dorney, Henley and Swim the Island).

Callum Chivers

An open water swimmer at heart, he has been swimming open water since he was 11 years old. At university he represents his college in rowing and plays some water polo. Has won several BLDSA events including the 5km Colwick Park and 4.5km Lynn Regis.

Andrew Ng

Has competed for Cambridge in the Varsity swim team, holding a half blue. His speciality is 400m and other long distance pool swimming, and he has swum competitively from a young age.

Dan Brackenbury – Reserve

Has competed for Cambridge in the Varsity Swim team for multiple years, achieving three half blues. He has also completed a Channel Relay swim, having been Captain for the Cambridge team in 2014.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.