Virtual May Bumps aims to replicate the quintessentially Cambridge tradition is a socially-distanced format.Virtual May Bumps Committee

A typical highlight of the end of term for rowers and non-rowers alike is May Bumps. What better opportunity is there to watch the boats race, collide, and bring back glory for your college?

When Easter term moved online, it seemed that this Cambridge tradition would have to be put on hold. However, this did not stop Poppy Hill, of Jesus College Boat Club, who wanted to replicate Bumps in a socially distanced form. After pitching the idea to boat clubs, she sent out a call for volunteers, began to piece together a committee – and virtual May Bumps was born.

"Maybe try to hide your real potential by shuffling the fast with the slow runs? Or go for the quick sting with your fastest runners at the top?"

The concept is simple. Each boat, made up of eight runners and a cox, must run 800m per person each day between June 24th and 27th. Boats can “bump” other boats by running faster or slower than each other.

Each day’s racing will be marked by a “start cannon” at 3pm on the live event. However, participants may run at any point in the 24 hours preceding submission of times, which occurs at 5pm.

Times will be submitted via a form which will be sent to all entry contacts. The twist, as Fundraising and Communications Officer Jess O’Brien tells Varsity, is that crews made decide what order in which they submit their times. This allows tactics to come in to play.

“Maybe try to hide your real potential by shuffling the fast with the slow runs? Or go for the quick sting with your fastest runners at the top?”, explains Jess. Indeed, it’s not simply a question of the fastest runners.

Alongside the main event, there will be a Circuits Challenge. Jamie Bailey, Computing and Machinery Officer, has liaised with Carmen Failla, the boathouse manager of St Catharine’s College Boat Club, to organise this.

As he explains, “each crew must do two minutes of burpees, sit ups, push ups and air squats, as well as a surprise finisher which will be released the day before the event. It will all be judged by Carmen over Zoom on Sunday 28th, with each crew being assigned a time slot.”

It goes without saying that Virtual May Bumps will inject some novelty into Cambridge tradition. It makes impressive use of the wonders of modern technology: a simulation run through a Python Notebook will be used to situate teams on the river and determine bumps.

This format also opens Bumps up to non-rowers, and even to those who are not current students. Entries are open until Monday 22nd June, and everyone is encouraged to form a group with their friends and take part. With prizes including Jack’s Gelato, this is definitely not an opportunity to turn down.

The uniqueness of Virtual Bumps does not stop there. The committee has chosen to support two local charities, East Anglia Children’s Hospice and the Cambridge COVID-19 fund.

The money raised from fines and entry donations will go towards these two local charities, and the college with the largest amount raised per student will win the coveted Pegasus Cup. All other money raised will go to the COVID-19 funds. There will be fundraising targets to “bump” each day that competitors and spectators can contribute towards.

In fact, the committee hopes to involve the wider community as much as possible. The results of the first three days of racing as well as the best fines will be announced at 8pm on CamFM. Meanwhile, the final day’s outcome will be revealed during a five-minute slot on the May Week Mega Event livestream.


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Albeit a replacement for May Bumps, there is no doubt that this competition brings something new to the table. “Hopefully we don’t have to replace Bumps ever again!”, Jess jokes. “But it would be great to see whether we can take this energy forward to raise money for charity through the rowing community in the future.”

Jamie adds that “the infrastructure is now in place in the event that Lent's is also cancelled, so it should be fairly easy to set up again and repurpose should we need to”.

Only time will tell when Bumps can return to the river, but for now competitors will take to the roads for charity, for victory – but also just for a bit of fun. 

You can find out more about the event here, and the results can be followed by tuning into CamFM at 8pm on Wednesday to Friday, or the Mega May Week event on June 28th. Sign up for Virtual May Bumps here and for the Circuits Challenge by emailing cssf2@cam.ac.uk.

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