Rowing at University in Cambridge

The Bumps

Bumping, Celebrating, and Blades

Some photos included courtesy of JET Photographic

The Hooter and Whistle System

The biggest downer about making a bump is that you, as a rower, don't get to see it. (Bit of a silly idea to be facing backwards, really.) More significantly, though, you don't get to see for yourself whether or not you are catching up the crew ahead, and often it is even quite difficult for your cox to know reliably how far you still have to go. In most races you know how long you will be rowing for, but in the bumps you start out with little idea of for long you will be rowing before your race is over.

2nd Lent VIII bump Catz I, Lents 1998
2nd Lent VIII bump Catz I, Lents '98 (jet)

For this reason a system of hooters or whistles is used by the bank party to keep their crew informed of how they are doing vs. the crew ahead. (You can see the crew behind you, so there's no need for them to tell you about that!) The noise from crowds and the general commotion can often be huge (sometimes so loud that you can't even hear your own cox), and so blasts of loud airhorns are used to indicate the distance between your bows and your bump.

The usual system is to sound 1 blast when you reach 1 length away (i.e. having made up half a length), 2 blasts for half a length away, 3 blasts for a canvas (about 4 or 5 feet), and then continuous blasting when your bows are alongside your opponents' stern (known as "overlap") and a bump is imminent. This 1 then 2 then 3 progression originated in the days when service revolvers with six blank rounds were used rather than modern air horns - though these days being able to repeat the signals, and blasting continuously, are essential elements of the technique.

Aside from generally adding to the noise and drama of it all, the hooters do wonders for spurring on a flagging crew, whilst at the same time often shaking the confidence of the crew ahead - particularly important in lower divisions!

1st women's VIII win blades, Lents '98
1st women's VIII win blades, Lents '98 (jet)

Sometimes it can be very confusing when you've bumped - particularly if you don't hit anything very hard. Only your bank party will be able to see when the cox ahead has conceded and you don't want to stop rowing until you know you've hit them! Also trying to row an VIII being buffeted by the wash of another boat is pretty hairy, particularly if you're sat in the bows.

Celebrating

Chris Ingram and Dom Beary, having finally bumped Catz.  Lents '98
Chris Ingram and Dom Beary, having finally bumped Catz. Lents '98 (jet)

Having bumped or been bumped, you have no choice but move to the bank to get out of the way of other crews. Traditionally, winning crews used to decorate their boats with flowers and garlands, so today if you bump you drape yourself with greenery or flowers from the tow path - to declare to spectators and other crews as you row home that you bumped.

At the end of the four days' races, crews that go up four or more "win their blades" and as well as showing off greenery to celebrate that day's bump, carry their club's flag on their row home as a sign of their success.

A Trophy blade - 4th May VIII '99
A Trophy blade - 4th May VIII '99

A trophy blade is surely the ultimate momento of University or college life well spent; perhaps a bit unwieldy, but a beautifully restored blade decorated with the names of your crew and your achievement will probably be one of the most striking of your posessions for the rest of your life.

Going Head

At First and Third at the moment we are lucky to know what it is like to finish Head. Their are some small differences as well as it being rather special!

Rowing over Head, Lents '98
Rowing over Head, Lents '98 (jet)

Unless starting from 5th, the crew that finishes Head must row-over on one or more days - for men, finishing all the way up at Chesterton - to win its blades and the Headship.

CUCBC Medallion for Lents Headship
CUCBC Medallion - Lents Headship 2000

Once that ultimate goal is achieved, the club's flag is taken on a parade lap down the reach, before the crew collect their CUCBC medallions - awarded to winners of the University IVs and the Headship crews in the Lent and May Bumps. The final manifestation of your success is seeing your photo on the front of the following year's bumps programme!

Boat burning, Lents 2000
Boat burning, Lents 2000 (nk)

Burning a boat is a pretty cool way to celebrate, and the crew carry a suitable craft (something wooden and knackered) back to college before the dinner, where the hard-working secretary or social secretary oversees preparing it to be burnt afterwards - whilst the college keep a wary eye on safety!

The boat that was burnt in Lent Term 2000 was called Conqueror, and was a clinker VIII we owned that leaked heavily, but in which I had had my first three outings as a novice in October '97.

Martin Peck, July 2001


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