The Town Bumps
Saturday, 26 July 2014
July hasn’t been a good month for posting blogs. I’ve been doing too much doing and not enough writing, but now I have enough of a pause to record the wonderful week of The Cambridge Rowing Association annual Bumping Races. Most people call them The Bumps. It is a mad annual summer rowing event that 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 wide blade-tip to blade-tip.
At the start of the Bumps, up to 17 eighteen-metre long boats are lined up along the bank with a boat-length-and-a-half between them. There’s a countdown of a four-minute canon and a one minute 'gun' when – supervised with someone with a stop-watch – a coach on the bank will start to push the boat out into the river with a boat-hook on the end of a long pole. The cox (aka coxswain) holds onto a chain to prevent the boat getting an unfair advantage.
The countdown continues. 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 them. You’re rowing as strongly as you can, not knowing how well you are gaining on the boat ahead. (Sometimes coxes lie). Meanwhile, you can see the boat behind and think, are they gaining on us?
The challenge our crew always has is that we are what my youngest son would call a ‘seasoned’ crew and we are often about 250 years older than the boat that chases us. Some are lithe sixth-formers. We were bumped on the first night, but the event goes on for four evenings. Any boat that ‘bumps’ is promoted 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.
Third and fourth nights were going to be ours, we felt. 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 as if for over 1000. We kept away from our rivals a bit longer on the third night but again got caught. This time we pulled over and out of the way of still-racing eights, and found ourselves close to the marquis put up to wine and dine the wealthy corporate interests. Someone threw our cox a can of beer.
Fourth night we were going to row long and strong but once again didn’t manage to keep a much younger crew at bay. It didn’t end in tears, as it had for some other crews though. We were philosophical. We avoided serious collisions with other boats and even the bank. And we celebrated by swigging a bottle of Prosecco on the row back to the boathouse.
The whole event is mad and pretty pointless but we’d been heroic in encouraging a whole generation of younger oars-women with our self-sacrifice in allowed ourselves to be bumped!
Posted: 26/07/2014 15:36:13
| with 0 comments