The Club's Results

Lent Bumps 2015

1st women's VIII

Crew list for 3 races:

Coxed by: Matthew Crowe

Crew list for 1 race:

Coxed by: Matthew Crowe

Wednesday
Bumped by Emmanuel
Executed the race plan, took our bumps push and held Emma at 1/3 of a length for a while; then Emma took another bumps push and we didn't have another gear. Good lines from both coxes meant the bump came within a couple of strokes of the first overlap. (Peter)
On Friday I found out that I was going to be rowing in Lents, having insistently told most of the club about my 'retirement' the previous year. Lydia came to me with an empty seat and after a few heartfelt conversations, what was largely a monologue to my mother, and a decision matrix from Gonzalo, I found myself sparring in W1 the Saturday before Bumps. I had never gone into a Bumps campaign so personally underprepared, mentally and physically. A few people commented about how lucky I was, getting to do the 'fun' part without all the morning slogs up and down the river, but it was the training that had always given me confidence and some amount of calm about the racing.

On Tuesday there were predictions of strong headwinds for the first day of racing, but when I turned up to the boathouse the water was almost flat. It seemed that the weather gods were smiling on us, and I hoped this was a sign of further benevolence from fate to come.

The new marshalling instructions still confuse me, and I'm not sure if it makes me more or less nervous to essentially sit on the finish line and involve myself in the emotional turmoil and pain of the previous division, but due to a day's worth of smooth racing, we had a chance to gather our thoughts before rowing up. The paddling was smooth and powerful, and the burst on the reach wound to a snappy 37. Seeing the river empty behind us was somehow calming, and the practice start was enough of a warm-up to get our hearts pumping as we swung onto head station.

The four minute gun was always where the nerves hit me, the unstoppable countdown to the beginning and end of everything the term had represented for me, and this race was no different. I'm told that Lydia threw up from nerves on the start line, but I was so wrapped up in the race plan, getting a feel for the gap between us and Emma, and making sure everything was screwed on and in and tight that I didn't even notice. There was some confusion about the counting down (Iain's beeping watch had been resurrected just for me!) and between pushing out and the gun all I heard was a frantic '5!' before the cannons and Blanka's back moving towards me in the first draw stroke.

Our start felt powerful and very neat, and after the first 15 wind strokes (we weren't striding) I glanced up to see us moving away from the field. Through the gut we continued to take distance and the boat seemed to take heart, lifting in speed almost as our spirits lifted - thinking about walking away. As we turned into Grassy and took a lengthen, Emma began to move up on us, but very gently. They got an ever-optimistic whistle, which was immediately called down as bull---- by our bank party. However, as we rounded the corner it became clear that we were no longer moving away. Our Plough Reach Burn gave us a few feet of extra clear water, but once Emma got straight again they began their march towards us. Blanka was calling distances, but it was my job to call the move, when they were at half a length and closing. As their bowball began to inch forward, I called for a push just before the entry to Ditton. With two whistles ringing in my ears we squeezed on the legs and scraped back the few inches. We took a good line round Ditton with maybe 1/2 to 1/3 of a length between us, and once we were straight I called another move to try and break Emma as they lost speed, but they stuck with us. We moved down the reach on essentially the same line, hugging the bank with their bows sitting just outside our stern. I called another move, and Blanka let out an almighty roar, which spurred the crew on to ignore the three whistles now coming from the bank. As Emma inched up to overlap at the end of our unsustainable 10 the two boats were oscillating, almost meeting and parting on the rise and fall of the strokes. With my eyes on their bowball I called a final move as I watched them drifting towards our stern to steer for it. We had little left to give at this point, and Emma had one gear more. They absorbed our push and swung gently across to skim our stern. When Matt's hand went up to concede the Headship it felt as if everyone's heart dropped, exhausted by the battle. We managed to paddle on and clear, stopping on meadowside about 50 metres before the railway bridge. It fell oddly silent for a few moments after the three cheers, but in the stillness of the day we could hear almost everything the Emma crew and bank party were saying. I was reminded of the year before, and of 2011, the cycles of jubilation and despair, the sense of emptiness that comes before resolve.
(Julia A.)
Thursday
Bumped by Christ's
Overall a pretty good row, everything going according to plan (except for the bump itself, of course).  
Pretty good start, considering very few people were actually ready for it (the count-down being a little confusing), then all went rather better than yesterday.  
The pressure came much sooner though, as Christ's made their first move so that we had to take a bumps push in a corner (rather successfully), but  overlap happened somewhere at the beginning of the reach. A second bumps push and a maintained pressure allowed us to hold them for quite a long time. Christ's cox's fretful steering gave us a couple of minutes as well, but made for quite a confusing sight, their bow appearing to one side of our boat then the other.  
In spite of our renewed efforts, we got bumped at about the same place Emma had bumped us.  
(Zoe W.)
When we returned to the boathouse on Wednesday evening I told Fordy that I had a plan. I wanted to turn the gale force winds that were persistently predicted for some point this week to our favour. I thought that if we could hold onto second place, and to Emma's stern that one day they would hit the wind on the reach and stop. We might have just enough time in their wind shadow if we were sprinting to catch them. This plan was probably the result of anger and adrenaline, as cooler heads (Simon, Sean) gently tried to dissuade me, at least for the Thursday.

We felt that we hadn't made the most of our rhythm in the previous day's racing, and so the plan for the Thursday was to push Christ's away and see what happened with Emma, biding our time.

When we arrived at the boathouse reports starting coming in that the divisions were running a half hour late due to carnage and re-rows. While we all agreed that it was more sensible to sit in the boathouse than on the river, the captain (and ex-captain) stood, face pressed to the window, watching other crews glide by and their stress levels begin to rise. Lateness is probably the most feared sin on the Cam, and we compromised and pushed off about 10 minutes late. We still ended up sitting by the barges below the Green Dragon bridge, but at least we were entertained by the antics of the Clare cox, who seemed to have forgotten a life-jacket and made the epic sprint back to the boathouse.

With Emma now behind us to focus our anger and disappointment, the paddling was a little shakier, but our searing start brought that anger a purpose. We spun onto a new station and settled in for a new race. There was confusion again with the countdown, with several people shouting 'square!' with varying urgency and at different panic points, and our start was probably the weakest of the week. We had decided not to change our lengthen point, meaning that we held it at a brisk 38 for five or ten strokes longer. Coming through the gut we stayed fairly effective, but the huge energy expenditure of the start became obvious as Grassy cut into our rhythm. It was here that I began to notice Christ's moving up on us in earnest.

In lieu of a Plough Reach Burn, I called our first move on the exit of Grassy, and we moved out to a more comfortable half a length. Down the straight we were forced to absorb their move, leaving the clear water approximately unchanged. Around Ditton, a good line by us and a poor one by Christ's gave us a few extra feet, but facing the expanse of the reach, Christ's renewed their focus, and we were once again on the defensive. I'm told that somewhere around this point we moved up to an 'Iain length' off Emma, but I was beyond whistles, and trying to decide which were for whom, remaining fixated on their bows. Another move by Christ's and a few panicked strokes from us closed the gap to canvas, and then a few inches of overlap. The Christ's cox steered once, and I saw their bows pass over our stern. This cost them a few feet of distance and our bank party rang out with cheers that they had gone for it and missed. For 5 strokes or so, it seemed possible for us to walk away, but Christ's had soon brought their boat around again to closing, and steered to the outside to try to make a bowball bump. Again they missed, and we moved again to try to gain some clear water. There was a missed stroke from Christ's and we opened up a few precious inches, but the swinging of the Christ's bows back and forth across our stern seemed like the pendulum marking our time running out. Christ's finally decided to go for the full six feet of overlap and steer into Matt, rather than our stern, at about the same point as Emma bumped us the day before. With a sense of deja vu and burning lungs, we pulled into meadowside, still short of the railway bridge.
(Julia A.)
Friday
Bumped by Jesus
Before this Lents campaign began, most people would have said that Jesus was the fastest boat on the river, and that it was nearly inevitable that they would get blades. I had been hoping to use Christ's to avoid them, but we were now faced with the prospect of attempting to row away from them. Fordy managed to (briefly) buoy our spirits by reminding us that the Pembroke Regatta results seemed largely meaningless now and that we had no reason to believe that Jesus were faster than Christ's. We knew that one way or another this would be a long race, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that we were a 1.7k crew, rather than a 2.3k one. We resolved to lengthen down to 34, rather than 36 (both of which made me pine for the days of rowing over miles clear at 32 in 2010) and to do it before the corner. We talked at length about how this rhythm would be called and felt and executed, but were all aware that we would have precious little practice before the race.

In our first burst on the reach we attempted to wind to 40, but only reached a shaky 37, and lengthened to a few pips below this. Similarly in the start, we lacked a solid sense of how our cruising rate should feel and made our way to station 3 tipping gently from side to side after what was easily our worst paddle down.

The start was more orderly by virtue of several people bringing stopwatches, and by now we were learning how to channel the adrenaline of the start into a racy first few minutes. Jesus managed to largely stick with us through the start, where we were accustomed to gaining, and our lengthen was confused and ineffective, bringing us to 37, then ramping down to a 35 that was less 'chunky' than any of us had been hoping.

Jesus moved up on us very quickly, forcing me to call our first move in the gut as they tracked us round Grassy. There was no time for our technical calls on Plough Reach as once again we were sprinting for our lives and our bumps position. Jesus began to close the gap clinically, but stuck at a canvas just after the Plough, their bows bouncing in our wash. A big move on their part, and a painful one on ours closed the distance to a few feet coming around Ditton. We were overlapped going round the corner, but Matt's line taking us to the outside of their bows gave us a minute or so of grace. We were out of moves, and out of legs as I watched their bowball creeping past Matt and towards Blanka's blade. Some excellent evasive steering avoided the bow-on-blade bump that I would have predicted, but a final lunge wedged their bowball in Blanka's rigger and Matt raised his hand. It took us some time to disentangle ourselves, and we drifted together towards the far side of the reach.

That 100m of reach or so seemed to be sapping our energy and any sense of hope for our performance, so on the row back I called that training for the row over the next day started now. The paddling was smooth and powerful as we strived to not annoy Blanka. Some of us were channeling anger, some were coiling up a steely resolve, but everyone had only one goal in mind. Row over tomorrow.
(Julia A.)
Saturday
Bumped by Downing
I don't know how other crews approach the possibility of spoons, but the most marked element of the experience, emotionally, was the terrible cycle of decision, optimism, heartbreak, and resolve. We were all taken through this roller coaster each evening after the race and at crew pasta when we analysed our opposition, and decided we could hold them.

The next morning brought fears of widespread food poisoning, as Becci had been suffering all night, but thankfully for most of us it appeared to be an isolated bout of the flu that had been making its way around the boat clubs. Having already employed our emergency sub, we asked Amalie to make a heroic effort and row with W1 after her own race. The relief when she agreed was palpable, and our optimism buoyed again.

Saturday brought a grey sky and the heavy winds that had been promised for a week. Watching the winds whip the boathouse flags impressed upon us all the importance of space around the corners, when we would hit the gusts in new and terrible ways. Preeyan told us that there was no predictable pattern to it, and we knew we would just have to grip our blades, square up, and row long.

After a few more chances to practice our big legs lengthen, we were feeling confident in our long race plan. Jesus had told us that Downing would give us a scare off the start, but reassured us that we were much faster. It felt like we were getting better every day, but sadly so were our opponents, Christ's having bumped to headship the previous day. We hoped that today would be the day all that changed.

We tore off the start line in our usual spectacular fashion, and I glanced up, hoping to see Downing fading and Queens' moving up on them strongly. Sadly, their green blades were well behind as we dragged Downing away from the pack.

The gusts that had begun to whip up the water just before the starting cannon after four minutes of calm were bearing down on us from all directions and playing havoc with our blade work. Coming up to First Post I felt like we were rowing through molasses, and Downing, steering effectively in our wind shadow, gained alarmingly. I called a move in the Gut, and we pulled out as the wind hit Downing, but they barreled on in what was clearly a do or die sprint to Ditton.

Coming around Grassy they managed to get their bows on the inside of us, and as the screaming overlap whistles came from the bank they hit us as we slowed to steer for the corner. We attempted to pull in near the barges amidst the chaos of crews rounding Grassy with variously efficient lines, and for a few moments I thought we were going to capsize. We moved on as soon as the sandwich boat passed us, seeking clearer water. The paddle back was muted, but long and effective, showing how much more we had wanted to give in this race. The reach was cathartic, a long, silent patch where we could row out our frustrations and shock.

I don't know if any crew 'deserves' to get spoons, as there's an element of bad luck involved that I wouldn't wish on anyone, but I can certainly say that the result the girls (and Matt) have faced this week is in no way representative of the heart and soul that they have poured into this campaign. This is a young crew, but they have shown commitment and maturity well beyond their years. They have dealt with injury, illness and uncertainty with the stubbornness and drive of true competitors. They were presented with a situation that would have been crushing to many talented oarsmen and women, but they rose to that challenge and embraced it. I am incredibly proud to have rowed with this crew. Despite what the numbers might say, and what those who only look at the Bumps charts might think, this is not the fall of the women's side. It's the fire before the phoenix rises again.
(Julia A.)

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