Building up to The Bumps
Tuesday, 08 April 2014
We’re going for it again this summer. We've been out rowing through the winter but now starts the plan and training for the big one, although the event itself isn’t until the middle of July. Last year proved to be a wonderful week – in the thick of the Cambridge Rowing Association annual Bumping Races. Most people call them the Bumps. It is a mad event that must have evolved to cope with the fact that the River Cam is too narrow at Cambridge (Cambridgeshire) to allow side-by-side racing in something as long, wide and unmanoeuvrable as a rowing eight. They measure about seven metres blade-tip to blade-tip.
At the start, up to 17 eighteen-metre-long boats line up along the bank with a boat-length-and-a-half between each of them. There’s a countdown of a four-minute canon and one at a minute when a coach on the bank will start to push the boat out into the river with a long pole or boathook. The cox holds onto a chain to prevent any unfair advantage. Then when the starting canon fires, the cox drops the chain and the crews row as hard and as fast as they can. The start is frenetic, splashy and can be full of panic. The idea is to try to ‘bump’ the boat ahead before the boat behind bumps you. You’re rowing as hard as you can, not knowing how well you are gaining on the boat ahead. You’re totally reliant on the cox who is the only one who can see ahead, and she’s going mad shouting orders, encouragement and sometimes outright lies. Meanwhile, you can see the boat behind and are thinking, are they gaining on us?
The challenge our crew had in the 2013 Town Bumps is that we are what my younger son would call a ‘seasoned’ crew. We were probably about 250 years older than the boat that chased us on the first night. They were lithe sixth-formers from the local girls’ public school. We didn’t feel that bad when they rather predictably they got us on the first night. The event goes on for four evenings though. Any boat that ‘bumps’ is promoted to starts further up the start order, while ‘bumped’ boats move down. The aim is to end up ‘Head of the River’. We were full of hope on the second night but again, a younger crew got us. Their start was faster, though we had plenty of comments on how neatly we rowed. We always aim to look stylish.
Third and fourth nights were definitely going to be ours. Setting off rowing as hard as you can is all right, but the difficulty with this race is that you start as if you are running 100m, but have to keep going for over 1000. We kept away from our rivals the third night but by the time we reached the Plough at Fen Ditton, we wanted it to stop. ‘Stoke’ was beginning to whimper. I felt I couldn’t go on. Six was gasping fit to die behind me. We were all in danger of apoplexy. But then through the haze of gasping for air and the pain in the thighs, I registered that the chasing boat had fallen apart. They had set off for a quick kill. We’d stay enough ahead and they couldn’t keep up the pace. They’d lost their rhythm. They’d lost all power. They had died completely. Suddenly the energy returned to our crew and we powered over the finishing line, and an honourable ‘row-over’. Fourth night too we rowed long and strong and again managed to maintain our place. It felt as if we’d done all right keeping ahead of the youngsters, AND we avoided serious collisions with other boats and even the bank.
And it is a great feeling working in metronomic harmony with women you know you can rely on, pushing through and beyond fatigue, until finally there is the satisfaction of the end of the race – even if the whole event is mad and actually pretty pointless.
Posted: 08/04/2014 17:44:21
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