• Mike Taylor

Cambridge "Town Bumps"

A couple of weeks ago I took part in the Cambridge ‘Town Bumps’, a unique and historic rowing race where 18 crews set off at the same time (started by a cannon!) and try and catch the crew in front without being caught by the one behind. It happens every evening for a week, and your starting position every night is based on the day before - if you catch the crew in front of you on Monday, you start in front of them on Tuesday and have the chance to chase the next boat.

It’s madness; it seems like chaos to those new to it and success is a mix of talent and fortune - the saying is that good crews go up 3 places, lucky ones go up 4 and are awarded their oars by the club. The build up and adrenaline rush when you’re waiting for the cannon to fire is incredible - even Olympic medalists say there’s nothing quite like the stress of bumps!

There’s a longer explanation here: and lots of bumping videos on YouTube.

I was in my club’s seventh mens boat (out of nine, along with six women’s crews) - the six higher rated crews all train regularly and are fitter and quicker than us, we’re a mix of coaches and ex first boat rowers and nobody in our boat has actually trained in ages, some not since the last bumps week in 2019 and one of us has had a hip replacement since then! The crews starting in front and behind us are either junior crews or they are new rowers with enthusiasm and fitness but only a couple of years experience.

We may be carrying a few extra kilos but have something that gives us a huge advantage over them - experience. We know how to row together, making the most of what little fitness and strength we have. We know how to hit maximum speed quickly after the start. We’ve rowed bumps many times before and know how to cope with the chaos and the stress, we can plan for most outcomes, won’t panic and we’ll probably cope better with problems during the race than most of the boats around us.

You can’t pace a bumps race or you’ll get caught by the crew behind you - everyone needs to set off at top speed and hope for the best - which can lead to problems because a race can last eight minutes if you have to row the whole course, or it can be over within a minute if a bump happens quickly. Our experience meant we had a quick start and very fast first minute or so, but after that our lack of fitness would mean we’d get caught if we hadn’t already got the crew in front - high stakes, but we had no choice but to blast off the start and hope for the best..

The results table is here (we’re crew number 47, Cambridge99 7) and as you can see we had an excellent week, got lucky and went up a place quite quickly every night - although though on the last night we had to row for two minutes and they almost got away!

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