Bumps, day 1

July 22nd, 2009

I took up rowing back at Easter with Chesterton RC. Last night was the first night of the Town Bumps, a chance for all the “town” (i.e. non University) clubs to take part in this very traditional Cambridge race.

The bumps race format was supposedly developed in Cambridge because the river isn’t really wide enough to race with two boats side by side – most races on the Cam are time trials for that reason. In bumps, however, the boats are lined up at Baits Bite Lock, 90 feet apart. When the starting gun goes off, you row like mad and try and catch the boat in front of you, whilst the one behind you tries to catch you.

The races are organised into divisions (there are four mens divisions) with the elite boats being in the 1st dvision. Each division has 18 boats take part, but the 18th boat is the so-called “sandwich boat” because that’s the boat from the top position in the division below.

For the first race of the year the clubs take their positions from where they finished last year. My boat (Chesterton M3 – meaning the Men’s 3rd boat) started 15th out of 18 in the 3rd division. After a reasonable start, much chaos ensued. We were gaining on the boat in front (Cantabrigian 10) but the boat behind us (Cantabrigian 11) were getting much too close for comfort! As it happened, we were saved by them being bumped by Champions 8 and thought we’d got away with it…

But it was not to be. The sandwich boat in this race was City 8, a team of very able rowers who dominated the river a few years ago. They’d re-formed immediately before the bumps, and having put in quite a poor performance in one of the qualifying races (having done no training!) were put to the back of the grid. Anyway, they caused carnage. They came charging through and bumped us on the approach to First Post Corner (less than a quarter of the way down the course) – because they’d overtaken two boats that had already bumped, this is called an “overbump”. We now have to take their position at the top of the 4th division and be sandwich boat tonight.

The drawback to being sandwich boat is that you have to race twice on the same night. We’ll go off at the head of the 4th division and have to row the full course with a boat chasing us. Assuming we hold them off (this is called “rowing over”), we then row back up to the lock and race again as 18th boat in the 3rd divison. The aim is then to bump the 17th boat and stay in the 3rd division, so as not to be sandwich boat again the next night!

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