BUMPS: The history of it all
The May Bumps are believed to be the largest student sport by participation, nationally. Make sure you know something about it.
Whether you are a boatie brushing up on their chat, immensely bored post-exams, or a piece of Blue-tack looking to feign interest until you can get into someone’s pants, here is an article all about the Bumping races.
The Bumping races, or Bumps informally, are a type of race that occur in Oxford, Cambridge, Eton, and Shrewsbury. This special type of racing allows large scale competition on rivers that are narrow and winding, like the Cam.
May Bumps began in 1887 when they separated from the Lent Bumps. Prior to this, all of Bumps was run in one annual set of races, beginning in 1827. Only Cambridge colleges, Anglia Ruskin, and veterinary, and medical students can enter crews.
Crews race in VIIIs, which consist of eight rowers (duh), and a coxswain. The womens’ crews used to race in IVs until 1990. The races run over four days in the week before more May Week, from Wednesday to Saturday. They’re a heated show of college rowing, followed by students doing what they do best, getting drunk at a celebratory boat club dinners.
Each day crews line up bow to stern, with 1.5 boat lengths (30m) between them. The aim, once the cannon blows, is to row fast enough to hit the crew in front of you, and avoid being hit by the crew behind.
The crew that hits the crew in front “bumps” and the one that is hit is “bumped”. A coxswain may raise their hand before actually being hit to concede, however, adrenaline usually leads to fighting it out until clashes occur. If a boat rows the whole course without bumping, or being bumped, they are said to have “rowed over”.
Once a crew has bumped, or been bumped, they pull over to the side of the river to allow the crews behind to continue racing. If the crew in front of a boat bumps out, then the boat can continue chasing for the “overbump” by bumping the crew 3 in front.
This all happens over a 2.6km course, although this is shorter in lower divisions. The two crews involved in a Bump swap places for the next day, and the starting order of the first day is based on the finishing order of the previous year’s last day.
Each division has 17 boats in it. There are 5 mens’ divisions, and 4 womens’ divisions. The aim for a club is to have their 1st Men’s and Women’s VIIIs at the “head” of the river; i.e. to be at the top of the first division. Crews at the top of lower divisions are called “sandwich boats”, and must row at both the top of their division, and the bottom of the division above them. This allows them the chance to bump up, and move up a division.
The records of Bumps over the years are recorded in Bumps charts. There are some beautifully drawn copies in the union, but they are also available on the CUCBC website.
For crews that go “up four”, and bump on every day of Bumps, they earn the right to purchase their blade. Originally, this would have been the same blade with which they rowed, although nowadays there are special retailers for them. The crew will also row home on the final day with their flag held high, so watch out for that on the Saturday.
The crew which has the headship on the last day will usually celebrate by burning an old wooden boat, and jumping over it. Currently, Jesus College Boat Club has the most headships, with Trinity Boat Clubs (combined) the second most, and Lady Margaret Paddling Club come in at third.
There’s also the Pegasus Cup, which is awarded to the college with the most successful Bumps campaign overall. Any college can enter, provided that they have at least 1 men’s boat, and one women’s boat (or two women’s boats for women-only colleges). A club gains one point for every position up a crew moves, and loses one for each position down. The total number of points are then multiplied by twelve, and divided by the number of crews the club entered into bumps. The club with the most points wins.
This year’s Bumps should be excellent to watch, with fierce competition in all divisions. May Bumps are a great time for you to take a picnic, enjoy the sun, and finally see what your boatie friends enjoy about rowing – there is a reason to all those cold, 6am outings.
A good place to watch Bumps is on “Grassy corner” in lower divisions, or The Plough at Fen ditton, and the meadow at Fen ditton for higher divisions.
Please remember that there will be many caring coaches, manic marshals, and urgent umpires zooming down the towpath, so try to keep it clear. Best of luck to all crews racing.