The Tab-let: News of the Light Blues

Students at Cambridge University have been messing about in boats for a long time.

5 Mars 2020

By Tim Koch

On the weekend of 29 February – 1 March, rowers from Cambridge University were busy on the Thames and on the Cam. Tim Koch’s view of all of this was restricted to the area around Hammersmith Bridge but, fortunately, the internet has a wider reach.

Apparently, the cities of Oxford and Cambridge are each homes to institutions of higher education of some kind. However, HTBS thinks that they are more famous for their rowing. The popularity of the sport at both places is strange as the Cam at Cambridge and the Isis at Oxford are both narrow and winding rivers and are particularly unsuitable for side-by-side boat racing. Fortunately, necessity is the mother, father and, occasionally, mad uncle of invention and some long since graduated students (probably with Thirds) turned this negative into a positive when they invented ‘bump’ racing.

Jesus bumps Brasenose during the 2016 Oxford Summer Eights. The Brasenose cox raises his hand to acknowledge the bump.

In ‘bumps’, run over four or five days, divisions of 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, usually both boats withdraw from the race and pull into the side. For the next day’s race they will then swap places in the starting order. At Oxford and Cambridge, there are two sets of intra-university ‘bumping races’ for eights every year, one in early spring and one in early summer. At Cambridge, these are called ‘Lents’ and ‘Mays’ respectively, while at Oxford they are known as ‘Torpids’ and ‘Summer Eights’ or ‘Eights Week’. See my report from Eights Week 2016 for a fuller explanation.

A map produced by Cambridgeshire Rowing Association for The Town Bumps.

Spring’s Torpids and Lents are both more low key than their summer equivalents; firstly because the weather is often not conducive to spectating, secondly because exams are not yet over, and thirdly because the standard is lower as many of the best rowers not taking part because they are busy training with the university boat clubs in an attempt to earn a place in a Blue Boat for Boat Race Day.

This year, Oxford’s Torpids were due to be run from 26 to 29 February but, because of the recent prolonged heavy rainfall, they have been rescheduled as a 2-day event for 12-13 March. The Cam is less prone to flooding than the Isis so Cambridge’s Lents took place as planned on 25 – 29 February.

Men’s Division One. Graphic by Cam FM.

The above shows the results for Men’s Division 1 in the 2020 Lents. On the left is the finishing order for 2019, on the right is the finishing order for 2020. Thus, Caius finished ‘Head of the River’ last year but this year were ‘bumped’ on day one by Lady Margaret, did not get bumped or make a bump on days two and three (‘rowed over’), and were bumped by Pembroke on day four. Lady Margaret bumped Caius on day one and rowed over for the remaining three days, thus finishing ‘Head’. It was a bad Lents for Christ’s who started 9th and finishing 13th as they were bumped every day, earning ‘spoons’. Conversely, Magdalene had a good time, bumping every day to rise from 14th to 10th, earning ‘blades’. The full men’s results are here.

Women’s Division One. Graphic by Cam FM.

At the top of Women’s Division One, Downing did exceptionally well to raise three places, bumping Emmanuel, Jesus and Newnham to go ‘Head’. It was ‘spoons’ for First and Third (Trinity College) and for Girton, while it was ‘blades’ for Caius and for Churchill. Full women’s results are here.

Downing after bumping Jesus by Grassy Corner to go Head of Women’s Division One in the 2020 Lents. Picture: Alexander Massie via “Varsity”.

The Cambridge student newspaper Varsity produced a daily summary of the racing. Links to their reports are below, together with a highlight of each day’s weather.

Day 1: Hail.

Day 2: Sunshine.

Day 3: Snow.

Day 4: Rain.

Day 5: 45mph winds.

A fixture on the Thames between the Cambridge men’s reserves, Goldie, and Oxford Brookes II. Brookes won both pieces, the first, from the start to Chiswick Steps, by 5 lengths, and, the second, from the steps to the finish, ‘easily’.

During the time that the members of the college boat clubs had been battling it out on the Cam, those in the University Boat Club were 70 miles away, training for Boat Race Day on the Thames Tideway. On Sunday, 1 March, the probable Cambridge crew raced Oxford Brookes (OBUBC) in one of the pre-Boat Race fixtures, races when top British and foreign crews go against potential Oxford and Cambridge crews over parts of the Putney to Mortlake course. I was not able to follow last Sunday’s events on the water but an edited official report is below in bold italics and the Cambridge crew is listed here.

Brookes won the coin toss and chose to race on the Surrey station… By the time the crews reached the Town Buoy (aka The Black Buoy), both crews had received several warnings, and there had been multiple blade clashes. Brookes had come out of the clashes better off and taken a 1/3 length lead. Cambridge closed this gap by Fulham Football Club and were starting to draw level with Umpire Winckless ordering both crews to hold their lines. Following another blade clash just before the Milepost, Brookes took advantage again taking ½ length lead which they extended to clear water by Hammersmith Bridge and continued to move away to a 2-length margin when the first piece ended at Chiswick Steps.

The first Brookes – CUBC race approaches Hammersmith.
Emerging from under Hammersmith Bridge.
Moving away from the bridge.

In between the two pieces, the coaches and Umpire Winckless assessed the unusual tidal conditions and agreed to proceed with the second piece with the two crews remaining on their same stations….

The crews spun round to start the second piece at Chiswick Steps and….  Cambridge went off the start much more aggressively. Brookes intrusive steering earned them multiple stern warnings from the Umpire whilst they maintained ½ length lead on the approach to Barnes Bridge. However, Cambridge’s obvious determination to get revenge paid off as they took the lead under the bridge.

With Winckless continuing to warn both crews, it was all to play for in the final stages of the race and Cambridge’s lead was reduced to just a canvas by Dukes Meadow. Brookes put on a final push which Cambridge just could not match, and moved away to a victory of just 1/4 length at the Boat Race finish line just before Chiswick Bridge.

Brookes and Oxford approaching Mortlake Brewery. Picture: James Lee, @JLee_Row

Unfortunately, it is difficult to compare the Brookes – Cambridge fixtures of 1 March with the Brookes – Oxford fixtures of 22 February.

The two OBUBC – OUBC races were run from the start (or near to it) to St Paul’s School in ‘challenging conditions’ that favoured the Surrey station. Thus, Oxford on Surrey won the first piece by 1 1/4 lengths, Brookes on Surrey won the second piece by 2 lengths.

The two OBUBC – CUBC races over the first and second halves of the full course were a fairer test of abilities. Brookes won both but it would be reasonable to judge Cambridge by their best race, the second one, which they lost by 1/4 length.

Brookes would probably be the victor in a fair race against either Blue Boat but both Oxford and Cambridge would quite possibly still be overlapping the boys in burgundy at the finish. It could be concluded from all this that the two Oxbridge crews are fairly evenly matched. This bodes well for a good race on the day that counts, 29 March, an event that may prove the old adage that a boat race is when two crews compete against each other until one decides that it cannot win.

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