June 17, 2004

The Bumps

I mentioned yesterday that one of the things leading up to May Week was The Bumps. Not a very descriptive name, is it? Well, once you know what it entails, it is quite descriptive, but I remember not having a clue what it was about when I first heard of it, so I thought it might be nice to elaborate on my “strange week-long rowing competition”.
Of course, it involves rowing. That is the sport in Cambridge, despite being the place where the rules of (association) football were first agreed upon. The week before May Week hosts the University Bumps, a contest between the rowing crews of the university colleges; not to be confused with the Town Bumps, a similar contest between the crews of the non-university rowing clubs held later in the year.
Unfortunately, the rowing bumps are nothing like the bumps you get at birthday parties. If they were, it would undoubtedly be easier for us non-rowers to get to grips with. Instead, it comprises a set of rules basically to get round the fact that the river Cam is only wide enough for one rowing boat at a time, and it’s quite hard to race if there’s no way to overtake the people in front.
So, the boats all line up about a length or so apart, and when the cannon is fired to signal the start of the race, each boat tries to catch and bump (bow getting ahead of stern is also counted as a bump) the boat in front whilst not getting bumped by the boat behind.
When a “bump” occurs, the two boats involved pull over to the side of the river, and their race is over – largely a good thing, as the race is run at sprint pace and you don’t really want to sprint the whole mile or two of the course. The boats will then swap positions for the race on the next day; there are daily races for a week, and the rankings are then held over ’til next year, so the aim is to climb the rankings as best as one can.
With boats dropping out of the race once a bump occurs, the following boat then has a lot of water to make up to catch the boat three in front, but if they manage to pull it off the same swapping rules apply and they gain three places in one go.
All that remains is for the crew of the bumping (as opposed to the bumped) boat to collect some willow branches from the banks of the river to wear in their hair to signal their success as they row back into town.
I guess as a way of turning a procession into a race it works quite well. Has anyone got Bernie Ecclestone’s email address? I think Schumacher would look quite good with bits of armco or sponsor’s hoarding stuck to his helmet…


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