Caius Boat Club on the Fairbairns courseWilliam Connolley with permission for Varsity

On two frigid days at the end of last term (30/11 and 1/12), college rowers took to the River Cam for the most important race of Michaelmas term, the Fairbairn Cup. This year saw the tightest competition between Cambridge colleges in the Men’s Senior VIII division in 10 years, while the Jesus women’s side dominated the women’s divisions. Now in 2024 before Lent term gets underway, it provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on these results and where they leave colleges for next term’s Lent Bumps.

Men’s boats

The Senior VIIIs 1st division ended Fairbairns as the most competitive of all the races. Caius narrowly snatched victory overall finishing in 14:39.5, with Emma, Downing and Selwyn all finishing within ten seconds of Caius. Meanwhile in the Senior IVs division, Magdalene finished the race in 11:02.4 – a strong lead of nearly 14 seconds to Lady Margaret (St John’s).

The novice races were a different story with both having comfortable winners. The Wolfson 1st Novice VIII, who won both Qergs and Clare, ended with a comfortable 12-second lead. They were followed by Jesus and First and Third (FaT/Trinity), respectively. The Novice VIII’s 2nd division followed a similar story with an emphatic victory of over 20 seconds by FaT.

So where does this leave colleges’ men’s boats going into Lent term? Last year Lady Margaret managed to maintain the headship in Lent Bumps while Caius held onto May Bumps headship. Both colleges performed well at Fairbairns, but as they competed in different categories, we will have to wait to see who comes out on top. Yet both colleges will be watching Magdalene, who dominated in the IV+ category and finished third in last year’s May Bumps. They will be hoping to close the gap over the next term.

Elsewhere in the men’s top divisions, Emma will be hoping for back to back blades in this year’s Lent Bumps after finishing second at Fairbairns. A low starting position of 12th should help Emma make this a reality. Similarly, after both their senior and novice VIIIs finished fifth in their respective categories, Selwyn will be aiming to take home a set of blades from their favourable position down in fourth in the second division of Lent Bumps. Meanwhile, Wolfson’s strong novice programme in Michaelmas could provide further competition for their M1 boat. This will likely help them move further up the second division from eighth and place blades on their agenda.

Women’s boats

In the Women’s 1st VIII division, Jesus firmly dominated the division with an impressive 40-second lead over their closest opponent, the largest lead in over ten years at a time of 16:32.8. They were followed up by St Catharine’s, Downing and Newnham, in that order. Jesus’ women’s side furthered this achievement by also winning the IV division. They finished with a time of 12:48.1, an eight-second lead over King’s College.

“King’s will have blades on the mind as they transition to a VIII this term”

For the women’s novice races, Selwyn NW1 won their division with a time of 11:33.9 and a lead of nearly ten seconds. The top five were then rounded out by Jesus, Churchill, Lucy Cavendish and Caius, in that order. Meanwhile in the NW2 division, Wolfson successfully won their second race, seeing off their nearest competition from Fitzwilliam by over 20 seconds.

So how does this shape our predictions for Lent Bumps? Last year Jesus W1 successfully took headship from Newnham in both Lent and May Bumps to end the year with double headship. A 40-second lead at Fairbairns and second place for their novices places Jesus in a strong position going into this term to hold onto their headship. Below Jesus, hoping to close this gap are Emma, Newnham, Lady Margaret and Downing, with Newnham and Downing coming the closest to Jesus at Fairbairns.


Mountain View

Qergs 2023: Been there, done that, got the T-shirt

Further down the top division, St Catharine’s ended Fairbairns second. With an advantageous starting position of 17th, this gives them a strong chance to achieve blades in Lent bumps. Success would bring them a second set of blades after an impressive May’s campaign last year. In the second division of Lent Bumps, Homerton will be hoping to build on a ninth place Fairbairns finish as they start in third. However, on the first day they will be chasing King’s who, in the IV+ division, ended only eight seconds behind a strong Jesus boat. King’s will have blades on the mind as they transition to a VIII this term.


As is the case every year, this next term of rowing is shaping up to bring some fierce competition and undoubtedly boaty rivalries. Furthermore everything can still change with some rowers potentially being cut from trialling with the University and a whole term of training for colleges to improve. If I have learnt anything from Bumps, it’s that they can be unpredictable on the day and no boats should rule themselves out from performing a shock upset. Therefore, we wish everyone rowing in races this term the best of luck!