What the heck is Lent Bumps?

Lent bumps is fast approaching and JOE WALLACE is on hand to explain its complexities.

bumps caius cam Cannon cubc Joe Wallace lent bumps liveblog m1 m2 river Rowing w1

Rowing isn’t exactly a spectator sport. Apart from the odd dramatic Boat Race, the sight of eight men or women moving up and down in a boat is hardly thrilling. The grimaces, sweat and tears give the air of organised masochism rather than sport – for non-obsessives, at least.

But Cambridge likes to do things differently, and rowing is no exception. The tight corners of the River Cam render side-by-side competition all but impossible. The answer? Bumps. Far more confusing, but far more exciting. But is there any order to this chaos and who are this year’s hot prospects?

Thought this was exciting?

Trenton Oldfield’s protest during the 2012 Boat Race gets him into deep water

Then how about this?

Making it look Caiusy: Caius gently nudge Lady Margaret (St John’s) into the bank 2011

It works like this: boats are lined up, one and a half boat lengths apart, and give chase to the crew in front. A cannon blast signals the start of the carnage. To ‘bump’ the crew in front you’ve got to hit them. The cox ‘concedes’ by raising his hand. The two boats then stop and attempt to escape the path of oncoming eights. If the crews in front of you ‘bump out’ there’s the chance to catch the boat three places ahead – an ‘overbump’.

The race is organised into divisions (M1, W1, M2, W2 etc). If a crew bumps up on one day they swap places with their prey on the next. In the rare case of an ‘over-bump’ the offending boats move up or down three places.Divisions start the first day in the same order as they finished the year before.

Last year’s results for M1 (left) and W1 (right). The right hand columns are this year’s starting orders.

If a crew moves up every day they earn the coveted ‘blades’ and eternal glory; if they fail four times in a row they receive ‘spoons’ – along with much shame. All this prompts mayhem: multiple pileups ensue as crews collide or fail to navigate the tight early bends.

It can all get a bit much, as your reporter (arms flailing in the offensively yellow boat) found out last year. (Photography by Dave Bishop.)

This term’s Bumps promise to be particularly thrilling but the tempestuous weather has cancelled a lot of races. There could well be changes at the top of the first divisions for the first time since 2011. Caius M1 and Downing W1 have been dominant at head of the river since then, but both look set to be toppled. Downing M1, starting in second, have been unbeaten all year and, having smashed all-comers at Winter Head to Head, are odds on to snatch the headship. The women’s side is slightly less certain, but it would be surprising if First and Third (Trinity) did not catch Downing at some point in the week.

Caius M1 row to victory last year. They should find the going much tougher this time around. (© Michael Allan)

There should also be some exciting battles further down the tables. Jesus M1 look a good outfit but First and Third, whom they are chasing, are an unknown quantity. If they catch them, Jesus could easily leapfrog Queens’ and Caius into second. Jesus should be safe from Lady Margaret (St John’s), but the latter could follow them up the tables having posted similar times at Head to Head. One of the tightest battles will be between Robinson and King’s M1s on the first day. Robinson will fancy their chances of blades having come second at Head to Head; but King’s – their quarry – were only marginally slower and could catch St Catherine’s first.

Among the W1s, Emma destroyed Jesus at Head to Head and Newnham Short Course so will almost certainly catch them and move into third, though their chances of bumping Trinity or Downing to take second or even first are slim. Christ’s W1 also look impressive so should bump later in the week. Caius could well trump Newnham having beaten both them and Clare – seeking to hunt them down – by a considerable margin at Head to Head. Queens’ should bump Catz and easily hold off King’s, whom Maggie will probably overtake.

In the M2 division, Caius will be keen to continue last year’s progress and move into the first division. But that is unlikely as Emmanuel M1 will be hot on their heels and smashed Caius M1 earlier in the term. Emma should move into division one at the expense of Magdalene and Selwyn M1s. There was little to choose between Churchill M1, Fitzwilliam M1, Caius M2 and Downing M2 over the first leg of Head to Head so they should be tightly matched over the four days. Downing will sense the opportunity to snatch the M2 headship as well. Lady Margaret M2 are pursuing Jesus and the two have been neck and neck all term.

Magdalene W1 are unlikely to catch Selwyn W1 at the top of the second division but should hold off Girton. Maggie W2 will probably be bumped by Homerton W1 and then Emma W2. Robinson W1 could well bump Newnham W2, while First and Third W2, Pembroke W2 and St Edmund’s will probably remain rooted to the bottom of the division.

But Bumps is notoriously hard to predict. Add in the lack of racing this term and the prospect of high winds and this year should be one of the most exciting in recent times.

Finally, if you want some words of wisdom to help your pursuit of glory, you could start by avoiding this:

Queens’ going swimmingly (skip to 1.50)

The Lent Bumps run from Tuesday 25th February to Saturday 1st of March. As always, The Tab, in association with Cam FM,  will provide minute-by-minute updates on its expert, witty and utterly impartial live blog. You can also listen to live coverage all week on Cam FM.