Cambridge Companion To: Lent Bumps

The Tab’s resident boatie HENRY CHARRINGTON takes you through the essentials of Lent Bumps

cox lent bumps mays Rowing

The premier event of the term for the Cambridge boatie, the Lents, justify all those ridiculously early starts all term.

For most of us, boatie jargon is thoroughly confusing.  So, here is a basic outline of exactly what they are referring to.

The event:
• From the 1st to the 5th of March, the Bumps run over 5 days, with each division taking one day off.
• There are four men’s divisions, and three women’s divisions. Each division has 17 crews, with 8 rowers and one cox per crew. That’s 1071 people involved in the Bumps altogether.
• 19 men’s and 15 women’s crews also tried to qualify in the ‘Getting-On Race’. This is an attempt for some of the lower crews to try and secure a place in a division, and is sorted by a race the week before.
• Rowers trialling for university boats are not allowed to row, unlike in the Mays.
• The position that a crew finishes in at the end of the year is the position in which they start the following year, so it is a general aim of clubs to perform consistently well and move up the divisions.
• The top boat of each lower division (the ‘sandwich’ boat) also races at the bottom of the next division, giving them a chance to progress into that division.
• The ultimate aim of each club is to hold the headship position, although this is only ever a realistic objective for the top 5 crews. It is this sense of continuous racing, year on year, which gives the bumps its uniqueness as an event.
• It is also possible to earn bumps glory by bumping everyday, in which case a crew is said to have earned ‘blades’. This means they are entitled to a commemorative oar  with the names of the crew, and the crews bumped, on it.

An example of a commemorative blade

• Alternatively, for those crews that fall everyday, ‘spoons’ are awarded.
• Speed in not necessarily, however, the only factor. A certain amount of luck is involved: it is not uncommon that the fastest boats fail to do well, due to slower crews bumping out ahead of them, or unfortunate incidents which change the course of the event.

The race itself:
• Crews start with one and a half lengths of clear water (about 90 feet) between them. After warnings both four and one minute beforehand, crews set off at the firing of a cannon, chasing each other over the 2.2km course.
• The aim of the races is to ‘bump’ the crew in front of you, before being bumped by the crew behind.
• A ‘bump’ occurs when one crew is literally hit by the chasing crew, or if the crew being bumped acknowledges that it is about to be hit, thus avoiding any physical contact of the boats, each worth thousands of pounds.
• Once a bump has happened, the two crews involved pull into the bank. The crew behind has to carry on to the finish (‘rowing-over’), or if it catches the boat ahead of the bumping pair, it is said to have ‘over-bumped’ and moves up three places.
• The next day, all crews involved in a ‘bump’ swap places with the crew they bumped, and the racing starts all over again.
• While the crews are busy trying to hit each other, the towpath is littered with supporters, and bank parties, who try to encourage the crews with various whistles and bells to signify (often dubious) distances between them and the crew ahead.

The history:
• As side-by-side races are not possible over most of the length of the Cam, the bumps were introduced in 1827 as an exciting alternative, although the Lents themselves only originated in 1887.
• For women, however, the Lent bumps started in 1976, and were won by New Hall (now Murray Edwards).
• Jesus hold the record for the most headships, standing at 42 at the moment, combining both men’s and women’s results.
• Trinity and Lady Margaret (St John’s) follow, with 28 and 20 headships respectively.

Who to watch out for this year:
• First and Third Trinity are currently head of both men’s and women’s divisions. After recent performances, however, they both look set to fall.
• Downing start second in both, and will hope to achieve a double headship this year.
• Lady Margaret, Pembroke, and Caius (right) make up the top five in the men’s division, while crews to look out for further down the division include Queens’, Churchill and St Catz.
• Christ’s, Emmanuel and Pembroke fill the top spaces in the women’s division, with Newnham, Murray Edwards, and Trinity Hall all worth watching elsewhere.
• FaT II and III will want to hold onto to their positions as head of their categories on the men’s side, while LMBC II will aim to do the same in the women’s table.
• A full starting order can be found here.

Starting on Tuesday, the bumps should offer the most exciting action on the Cam this term, and with chaotic and often dangerous bumps taking place it is well worth a watch for anyone even remotely interested in rowing.

The Tab will be there, bringing you live updates and daily round ups from every division.