The 2016 Eights Week at Oxford, Part II: Aquatics and Ecstatics

The view from the Brasenose/Exeter boathouse showing the end of Men’s Division I where Hertford College lead St Catherine’s College. The latter finished at the top of Division II every day. Each time a crew tops a division, they become a ‘sandwich boat’, meaning that they have to race a second time on that day, starting at the bottom of the division above.
The view from the Brasenose/Exeter boathouse showing the end of Men’s Division I where Hertford College lead St Catherine’s College. The latter finished at the top of Division II every day. Each time a crew tops a division, they become a ‘sandwich boat’, meaning that they have to race a second time on that day, starting at the bottom of the division above.

6 June 2016

Tim Koch has sent himself down from Oxford:

There was very little racing mentioned in the first part of my report, which was published yesterday, on this year’s Eights Week finale at Oxford, a not uncommon thing for HTBS but one that should perhaps be corrected in this, the second part.

In Part I, I said that ‘bump racing’ between crews from most of the 43 colleges and halls that make up the university originated because the river at Oxford is too narrow for side by side racing. In the four-day event, divisions of 14 crews of similar ability chase each other in single file, each trying to catch the boat in front without being caught by the boat behind. Once there is physical contact or overlap, both boats withdraw from the race and pull into the side. For the next day’s (or next year’s) race they will then swap places in the starting order. For the best crews the ultimate aim is to climb to the top of Division 1 and to be ‘Head of the River’. As a rise of four places in a year (i.e. making a bump every day) would be exceptionally good, the journey is a long one and, frustratingly, can resemble a game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’ when some good years of bumping other crews and rising through the rankings is negated by being bumped and dropping back down the said rankings. A look at part of this year’s final ‘bumps chart’ may clarify things.

The product of a slightly retro printer, this shows the charts for the 2016 Men’s and Women’s Division I/top of Division II. Full results are here.
The product of a slightly retro printer, this shows the charts for the 2016 Men’s and Women’s Division I/top of Division II. Full results are here.

The names in the chart above are in the order in which they finished in 2015. For each day of the 2016 races, a horizontal line means that the crew ‘rowed over’ (i.e. they did not bump and were not bumped), a line going up indicates that they bumped another crew, a line going down marks the fact they were bumped. Thus, looking at the Oriel Men, they ‘rowed over’ every day and remained ‘Head of the River’. Christ Church also rowed over and failed to bump Oriel and so finished second again. Third placed Pembroke rowed over on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday but on Saturday they were bumped by Keble. Thus Keble finished the week (and will start next year) as the third placed crew and Pembroke went down to fourth. Keble had started the week going off sixth but had rowed over on Wednesday, bumped Wolfson on Thursday (and so took their fifth place), bumped Magdalen on Friday (and so took their fourth place). Thus, by Saturday, Keble went off fourth, bumped the Pembroke crew in front of them and took their third place.

There is a lot of video of bump races on the Internet, here are a few of the most instructive and entertaining:

The ‘cox cam’ video above shows a brilliant cox, Matt Collins, in action over the Oxford bumps course in 2013. There are no bumps for his Hertford First Boat but get onboard and enjoy the row.

A very different view of Eights Week is from the air. In 2015, Silkstone Photography did a great job with a drone,  it is just unfortunate that they did not include any bumping action. At 70 seconds, there is a shot of the race between replicas of the boats used in the first Oxford-Cambridge race in 1829. This event was to mark 200 years of bump racing at Oxford.

I hesitate to link to the most popular type of video, one showing what can happen when the bumps go wrong, as it may give the impression that the event is badly run or especially dangerous – in fact neither is true.

Of course, we at HTBS are not too sure about this modern stuff and prefer what the newsreel cameras were producing in 1933. These days, few people run after boats as the film shows crew supporters doing. Hopefully, this is because of the information provided by the public address system and by social media, not because today’s students are any the less energetic.

Bumps: The Beginning

To make sure that the boats start the same distance apart and at the same time, the cox must hold a rope 50 feet in length fastened to a post. The posts are 130 feet apart. When the one minute cannon is fired, boatman push their crew out with a long pole and the cox takes the strain on the rope. Here, Men’s Division IV relaxes before all this happens.
To make sure that the boats start the same distance apart and at the same time, the cox must hold a rope 50 feet in length fastened to a post. The posts are 130 feet apart. When the one minute cannon is fired, boatman push their crew out with a long pole and the cox takes the strain on the rope. Here, Men’s Division IV relaxes before all this happens.
The one minute cannon has been fired, the boat has been pushed out into the stream and the cox for Magdalen II in Men’s Division IV hangs on to his rope.
The one minute cannon has been fired, the boat has been pushed out into the stream and the cox for Magdalen II in Men’s Division IV hangs on to his rope.
The starting cannon fires, the coxes drop their ropes and the crews go off, each boat having a two length advantage over the crew behind. The strange thing about bump racing is that, to progress, you need to be more than just a fraction faster than the people in front, you need to be ‘two boats plus’ faster. Here, Women’s Division III goes off with Exeter followed by Corpus Christi and then Wolfson II.
The starting cannon fires, the coxes drop their ropes and the crews go off, each boat having a two length advantage over the crew behind. The strange thing about bump racing is that, to progress, you need to be more than just a fraction faster than the people in front, you need to be ‘two boats plus’ faster. Here, Women’s Division III goes off with Exeter followed by Corpus Christi and then Wolfson II.

Bumps: The Middle

The view from Donnington Bridge, close to the start. In Women’s Division III, Green Templeton soon threaten St Peter’s.
The view from Donnington Bridge, close to the start. In Women’s Division III, Green Templeton soon threaten St Peter’s.
Green Templeton make a (non-physical) bump on St Peter’s. Both will now stop racing and pull into the side.
Green Templeton make a (non-physical) bump on St Peter’s. Both will now stop racing and pull into the side.
The ‘Gut’ is a tricky bend in the course that has been the downfall of many crews. Here, in Men’s Division III, Exeter lead St Peter’s and Merton out of the Gut.
The ‘Gut’ is a tricky bend in the course that has been the downfall of many crews. Here, in Men’s Division III, Exeter lead St Peter’s and Merton out of the Gut.
Parallax error disguises it, but Merton bump St Peter’s, probably because the latter did not steer through the Gut as well as their opponents. The St Peter’s cox raises his hand to concede.
Parallax error disguises it, but Merton bump St Peter’s, probably because the latter did not steer through the Gut as well as their opponents. The St Peter’s cox raises his hand to concede.
Near the finish, opposite Boathouse Island, Jesus threaten Brasenose in Men’s Division II.
Near the finish, opposite Boathouse Island, Jesus threaten Brasenose in Men’s Division II.
Jesus bump Brasenose, who concede.
Jesus bump Brasenose, who concede.

Bumps: The End

In Women’s Division V, Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) II celebrate something, possibly avoiding ‘spoons’ i.e. getting bumped every day. LMH’s Men’s Second Eight and Women’s First Eight both got ‘blades’ (illuminated oars) for bumping every day and both bumped up a rare five places into the division above.
In Women’s Division V, Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) II celebrate something, possibly avoiding ‘spoons’ i.e. getting bumped every day. LMH’s Men’s Second Eight and Women’s First Eight both got ‘blades’ (illuminated oars) for bumping every day and both bumped up a rare five places into the division above.
Regent’s Park, rowing in Women’s Division IV, celebrate winning blades. They bumped New College II, Lincoln II, Oriel II and Christ Church II.
Regent’s Park, rowing in Women’s Division IV, celebrate winning blades. They bumped New College II, Lincoln II, Oriel II and Christ Church II.
Corpus Christi (I think), who were top of Women’s Division III for two days and then suffered a bump a day after that. When rowers get wet, they tend to stick together.
Corpus Christi (I think), who were top of Women’s Division III for two days and then suffered a bump a day after that. When rowers get wet, they tend to stick together.

Bumps: Headship

Oriel, pursued by Christ Church as they pass the University College Boat House, row over to stay at the top of Men’s Division I and retain the Headship of the River. This was the ninth time that they had done this since 2000.
Oriel, pursued by Christ Church as they pass the University College Boat House, row over to stay at the top of Men’s Division I and retain the Headship of the River. This was the ninth time that they had done this since 2000.
Oriel ‘4’ man, Alex Trigger is congratulated by the boatman.
Oriel ‘4’ man, Alex Trigger is congratulated by the boatman.
Oriel’s Headship crew. Left to right: Stevan Boljevic (7), Alec Trigger (4), Iain McGurgan (Stroke), Henry Shalders (Bow), Betsy Jones (Cox), Sam Salt (2), Rufus Stirling (6), Charlie Cornish (5) and Louis Lamont (3). Charlie Cornish, who rowed in the Boat Race and Head of the River crews in 2014, subbed in for Joe Dawson who rowed for Isis in 2012, 2013 and 2016. There was some fear that a late change would give Christ Church the edge but, clearly, it did not.
Oriel’s Headship crew. Left to right: Stevan Boljevic (7), Alec Trigger (4), Iain McGurgan (Stroke), Henry Shalders (Bow), Betsy Jones (Cox), Sam Salt (2), Rufus Stirling (6), Charlie Cornish (5) and Louis Lamont (3). Charlie Cornish, who rowed in the Boat Race and Head of the River crews in 2014, subbed in for Joe Dawson who rowed for Isis in 2012, 2013 and 2016. There was some fear that a late change would give Christ Church the edge but, clearly, it did not.
As is their custom, members of Oriel Boat Club carry the winning cox, wrapped in the college flag, on an old wooden eight along the row of boathouses, through the town and into college.
As is their custom, members of Oriel Boat Club carry the winning cox, wrapped in the college flag, on an old wooden eight along the row of boathouses, through the town and into college.
There was an impromptu and amusing incident when it was decided to ‘storm the gates’, of arch rowing rivals, Christ Church. Had the porters at the wealthy and imposing college thought quicker, they could have let the enemy boat into their quad and then locked the great doors behind them.
There was an impromptu and amusing incident when it was decided to ‘storm the gates’, of arch rowing rivals, Christ Church. Had the porters at the wealthy and imposing college thought quicker, they could have let the enemy boat into their quad and then locked the great doors behind them.
Going down ‘The High’, Oxford’s main street.
Going down ‘The High’, Oxford’s main street.
 In the Oriel College quad, the boat is placed where it will be burned following that evening’s ‘Bumps Supper’. When I reported on the same ritual in 2014, https://heartheboatsing.com/2014/06/10/bumps-to-the-head-the-2014-oxford-summer-eights-part-2-an-oriel-picture-diary/ the boat was smashed up at this point. This year, Health and Safety has decided that such a thing is too dangerous.
In the Oriel College quad, the boat is placed where it will be burned following that evening’s ‘Bumps Supper’. When I reported on the same ritual in 2014, the boat was smashed up at this point. This year, Health and Safety has decided that such a thing is too dangerous.
To be in a boat club that has a crew go (or stay) Head of the River must be tremendous, to be in that crew would be even better, to be in that crew and to be Club Captain would be the ultimate. Stevan Boljevic, pictured here, is in that happy position.
To be in a boat club that has a crew go (or stay) Head of the River must be tremendous, to be in that crew would be even better, to be in that crew and to be Club Captain would be the ultimate. Stevan Boljevic, pictured here, is in that happy position.

As I had covered the celebrations of the winners of the Men’s Headship in 2014, my intention this year was to concentrate of the Women who went (or stayed) Head. However, Wadham, who remained at the top of Women’s Division I for the third year, have different customs to Oriel and do their boat burning later in the year, so there was not a lot for me to report on. Bow of the winning boat, Eliza Mauhs-Pugh, has written a very nice piece on Wadham Boat Club website on their path to victory and in it she calls bump racing ‘a 96-hour game of psychological chicken. And nowhere is it worse than at the Head, where you cannot chase but only run, run away’.

Head of the River, Wadham Women’s First Eight: Joe Reason (Cox), Rachel Anderson (Stroke), Anna Robotham (7), Maddy Badcott (6), Lia Orlando (5), Olivia Weatherhead (4), Lena Mangold (3), Maddy Butler (2), Eliza Mauhs-Pugh (Bow).
Head of the River, Wadham Women’s First Eight: Joe Reason (Cox), Rachel Anderson (Stroke), Anna Robotham (7), Maddy Badcott (6), Lia Orlando (5), Olivia Weatherhead (4), Lena Mangold (3), Maddy Butler (2), Eliza Mauhs-Pugh (Bow).
Cox Joe Reason shows what a mixture of adrenaline, alcohol and low body fat will do.
Cox Joe Reason shows what a mixture of adrenaline, alcohol and low body fat will do.
A group hug after putting the boat away.
A group hug after putting the boat away.
The 2016 Wadham boat burning is some months away but this shows the scene in the college’s Fellows’ Garden in 2015 when the Wadham women celebrated going Head in both March’s Torpids and June’s Eights Week. Picture: www.wadham.ox.ac.uk
The 2016 Wadham boat burning is some months away but this shows the scene in the college’s Fellows’ Garden in 2015 when the Wadham women celebrated going Head in both March’s Torpids and June’s Eights Week. Picture: http://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk

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