Bumps for idiots

ROSA JENKS explains why rowers sometimes feel the need to crash into each other.

| UPDATED 1888 blade bumps Carnage cox Crash idiots Peterhouse Rowing sandwich spoons

Ever wondered what all the fuss was about? Why all of a sudden coxes are encouraged to crash into, rather than (attempt to) avoid, other boats on the Cam? Has a very large cannon blast ever rudely interrupted your afternoon siesta?

To the occasional spectator, Bumps looks very exciting – but probably a tad confusing. To all onlookers baffled by the chaos that is May Bumps: fear not, look no further, the answers are all here.

Bloody complicated

Some of you may have noticed that the Cam is not quite wide enough to sustain a big side-by-side race. Bumps is the solution to this.

Crews ‘marshal’ (line up) in the order they finished their previous division, whether that be the end result of the last day of Bumps the year before, or the day before. Around 17 or 18 boats line up all with a boat length in between and when the cannon goes off all hell breaks loose as boats seemingly attempt to collide with each other/murder the cox of the boat ahead.

The Bump and the Sacrificial Cox

A Bump is technically when the bow ball of a crew behind, passes the cox in the boat ahead. The cox has to concede by raising their hand. The more ambitious coxes might not do this until the last second, often resulting in a direct collision, though they are advised to do so earlier.

The case of the Sacrificial Cox:

The tight corners of the Cam not only provoke gruesome coxing stories but also tales of damaged rowers. Most notable is the famous incident of 1888 (drumroll please) where Clare bumped Queens’, then Tit Hall rammed into Queens’ 4th seat once they had pulled into the bank, spearing him in his heart and killing him.

A row over…. What exactly?

When a boat neither bumps nor is bumped they ‘row over’, which means they have the joyous opportunity of rowing the full bumps course from where they marshaled to Chesterton footbridge (or Peter’s post for the women). A row over is the goal of the boat at the ‘Head of the River’ -they are the first boat in the division so can only be bumped. Caius M1 is currently first in the May Bumps division, Clare W1 taking the equivalent female title.

The ‘overbump’ #bitkeen

An ‘overbump’ is when a crew in front of you has bumped up, the bumping pair has moved to the side of the river and you proceed to bump the next boat ahead. This way a crew can move up 3 positions – or even 5 or 7 if this pattern continues. Last year Peterhouse moved up 5 places overall because of an overbump on Day 2.

Peterhouse and sporting prowess: just sometimes they do go together


When many boats come close to bumping each other, boats fail to clear the river quickly enough in the event of a bump, or a crew crashes into the side of the bank when surrounded by other crews, we say ‘carnage’ has occurred. Whilst the spectators watch in awe and amusement the crews struggle to reclaim blades and ‘hold it up’ to prevent further catastrophe. Some classic moments of carnage can be viewed below:

Careful now – we don’t want another 1888


For optimum carnage see minute: 4:20


Watch from 1:30-2:30

‘Blades’- what, even more violence? 

If a crew bumps each day of bumps then they get the novelty of receiving ‘blades’, which is pretty much what it says on the tin: they receive a blade with their names and college crest painted on it. These can often be seen hung up on walls of boat houses or college bars. On that final bump the cox draws out a massive flag and proceeds to hold it on the row home whilst steering the boat (which might result in more carnage…). Blades rewards crews who might be stronger than their equivalents of the previous year and therefore placed lower in the charts.

Nope, not that kind of blade

‘Spoons’… really…. 

The opposite of ‘Blades’ is ‘Spoons’ where a boat has the unfortunate experience of being bumped every day. Last year both Magdalene and Tit Hall M1 moved down 4 spots to claim this (oh so glorious) title. However this may put them in a position to bump up this year, if their crews are stronger.

Nope, not that kind of Spoons

Fancy a sandwich?

The boat at the top of all of the divisions (other that the 1st) has the privilege of racing at the head of their division and then again at the bottom of the division above them. These boats are referred to as the ‘Sandwich boat’.

Though this entails the possibility of having to row the entire Bumps course again (the excitement! Or pain…) if they bump up they remain in that division and the crew they bump is sent down to the top of the lower division.

Wrong again. Now you’re just being silly

Well, I think that covers most things. Hopefully you can now watch the Bumps with a greater understanding of the inevitable mess which will undoubtedly unfold. This year promises to be a good one, with Caius W1 looking to bump up a few spots and the battle between Caius and Downing M1 for headship continuing.

Oh and before you go, here’s  just one last bit of carnage….

Think bumps are shit? The only thing worth doing? Email [email protected]