Boats and Bumps

Bumps, overbumps, head of the river, winning your blades; is it only in Cambridge they have such ‘unusual’ terms to describe sports?

Today was the beginning of the May Bumps races, something I never knew existed until last year when I was sitting by the river and watched boat after boat of people with willow leaves shoved down their backs happily rowing along and had to ask a friend what was going on. His answer of ‘The bumps are on!’ did not help me at all. Soooo for those as clueless as I was; its a rowing race.

As you can’t race in the traditional line up on the Cam due to the narrow, windy river and the lack of steering ability of the boats they race one after the other. Each boat sets off one and a half boat lengths behind the others.

  • A bump is when one boat catches up to the boat in front and the cox concedes. Both boats then pull to the side.
  • An Overbump  is when the boat behind the both of these boats then catches up with the boat ahead and ‘bumps’ that.
  • Whoever finishes as the first boat in the top division (there’s 5 divisions for men, 4 for women) becomes ‘Head of the River’
  • If a boat gets  ‘bump’ each day they win their blades; as a prize they get an oar with the names of the crew on it, they also get to finish the course with the Cox holding the College flag (and a glass of some kind of alcohol)

That’s the basics of it anyway! Sorry if I got it wrong, I had to rely on google and other friends who have rowed to explain it to me!

Anyway there’s the Lent bumps which I completely missed as it was too cold and wet out to be sitting on a river bank, then the May Bumps which happen in June. Completely logical.

Yesterday was the first day of the bumps so after work I headed down to the river to watch the action. Even without really know whats going on its fun to watch and enjoy the excitement, although knowing whats going on may help so you don’t get in the way too much…. unlike me who almost got battered by the oars as the boats pulled in post-bump. Sorry I’m only a *tiny* person. hehe!

Day two of bumps was less exciting; no crashes, no bumps that I saw (yesterday I got the position perfect and saw loads of action, today it all happened just out of my sight) However there was one piece of action, a mummy duck and her ducklings were swimming across the river just as the men’s rowers were coming down. Forget cheering for the rowers everyone was screaming for the ducks to get out of the way! You could see them panicking, not sure which way to go,  until the boat got too close and the mummy duck had to flyaway leaving the ducklings behind then swim back for them. I think that was the biggest cheer of the day, when the Mummy found her ducklings again!

Day four (I was busy yesterday so skipped a day) and it’s a semi sunny Saturday so off to the river I go. As I’ve got more time today I moved around a bit to find the best spot, so got to see the start of a race and get comfy watching the action.

  • Today is the day crews can ‘win their blades.’ (Can you imagine moving house; errrr sorry just need to find space to pack my oar…. cool momento tho)
  • Had a couple of crashes, most memorable being a crew rowing into the cox of the boat in front (no one hurt just lots arm flapping)
  • Getting to see the start of the race; it involves the boats being pushed out with a long metal stick, and the tension in the atmosphere waiting for the canon to start the race.
  • The look of exhausted joy on the crews faces. Trust me, when I finish a race I look like a sunburnt blobfish so these guys must love it to do all that exercise and still look happy.

  • The atmosphere is great, loads of people are out watching with a picnic.
  • There was a jazz band playing which got people up dancing 🙂


Jesus College Women’s Crew doing their lap of honor as Head of the River

Have a good week and lets hope the sun comes out again!


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