The appeal of crashing into other boats post-exams simply does not seem to waneGiorgio Divitini with permission for Varsity

After four intense days of racing in conditions that spanned across all four seasons, this year’s May Bumps have finally come to an end. With 154 boats comprising 1,386 rowers and coxes taking part, as well as many more coaches, boatpersons and spectators, the appeal of crashing into other boats post-exams simply does not seem to wane.

To briefly summarise the way that May Bumps work, boats race over the course of four days, seeking to “bump” into the boat ahead and swap places in the order, which is based on the results of the previous year. At the very top is “headship” position – a prestigious place occupied by only the very fastest of college crews. It is therefore a long-term, historical game of college boats trying to climb their way up.

“It is therefore a long-term, historical game of college boats trying to climb their way up”

The race to the top

This year’s bumps were filled with drama and at the top of the pecking order, as both Caius M1 and Jesus W1 were usurped from headship position. Day one saw Caius M1 toppled by a phenomenal Lady Margaret (Maggie) M1 crew. Despite a valiant effort by Caius to sprint away down the reach, there was no stopping the Maggie steam train from closing in and ultimately achieving the bump. However, Caius Boat Club would not go long without headship, as their W1 managed to turn their fortunes around and secure headship in the most emphatic of ways. After getting bumped by Maggie W1 on day one and rowing over behind them the next day, one could easily assume that the chances of headship for Caius were slim. However, a tremendous revenge bump on Maggie on the second-to-last day set them up well for a final showdown with Jesus W1. After seven gruelling minutes of racing, Caius W1 achieved a fantastic late bump shortly after the railway bridge to cement themselves in headship position.

“Good crews go up three, lucky crews go up four.” What about going up nine?

For several crews, this year brought about the mythical achievement of “blades”, which is when a crew bumps everyday (although definitions can vary by club, who may award “technical blades” if crews still manage to go up four places). Hughes Hall was the place to be this Easter, being the only college whose M1 and W1 both achieved blades. In the women’s divisions, First and Third (Trinity) did exceedingly well to achieve blades with both their first and second boats, particularly given that their W1 was the only boat achieving blades in the top women’s division.

“May Bumps can bring together the college community regardless of sporting background or academic seniority”

For others, regular blades simply would not suffice and instead, these overachieving crews got “superblades”, where a crew manages to go up by more than four in the order. Homerton W3 was able to finish the week with the largest ascent of any boat, going up an astounding nine places. Most college rowers would be thrilled to get a single overbump in their time here and will likely never get one. Homerton W3 subverted the odds by managing to overbump not once, but twice, in the space of a single day – quite the remarkable feat. In the men’s divisions, this year was once again a good year to be part of Lucy Cavendish, whose M1 has been on a steady march up the order, having bladed in 2022 and 2023. This time their M1 and newly inaugurated M2 reaped rewards, both going up five places and achieving superblades.

When 2024 oars start to pop up across college bars and boathouses, it will have been thanks to the efforts of college rowers who trained relentlessly through the thick of exam season to give themselves a chance at a spectacular set of results.

The unsung heroes of the Cam

While crews that won blades will be the ones cemented in May Bumps history and college bar walls, it is also important to appreciate the efforts of crews which may not have bladed or even bumped, but performed exceptionally and put on a spectacle regardless.

Sometimes, closely fought rowovers (when a crew rows through the entire course without bumping or getting bumped) can be the most exhilarating moments of the week. At marshalling for my division, I had the privilege of watching the chase between Downing W2 and Clare W2 by the P&E, only a couple of hundred metres away from the finish. On the second day, Clare were excruciatingly close to a late bump on Downing, coming within just centimetres of the bump, yet Downing dug deep and escaped by the skin of their teeth. To the delight of everyone watching, the very same thing happened on the third day, with Downing once again putting in a gutsy row to escape getting bumped by the narrowest of margins. While rowovers like these may only appear as unremarkable straight lines in the results, they remind us of the passion (and pain) that goes into every row, no matter the outcome.


Mountain View

A day in the life of a record-breaking rower

In a repeat of 2022, intra-Maggie conflict was rife this year, as Maggie M5 once again bumped M4 in a fierce battle between terrestrial athletes taken to the water. Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Maggie M5 was not even their lowest boat, as they managed to put out an M6 boat for fellows, marking the first time since 2019 that a sixth boat has taken part in May Bumps. Coming from a college where even just putting out second boats has proven to be difficult at best, and nightmarish at worst, this level of participation is almost unthinkable to me. The impressive turnout by Maggie shows how May Bumps can bring together the college community regardless of sporting background or academic seniority.

The achievements outlined are by no means exhaustive and there were many other examples of impressive and praiseworthy achievements by crews. Over the course of this academic year, many will have trained countless times and rowed countless kilometres alongside (or instead of) their degrees in the lead up to May Bumps, and thus it is appropriate to appreciate all the crews taking part this week.

Another year, another Bumps

This year’s May Bumps were once again full of passion, dedication and excitement. For some, this week marked the end of their time in college rowing, which continues to provide so many with an opportunity to try a new sport, stay fit and be part of a strong community. For all, this week showed the spectacular camaraderie within the University community and the joys and quirks of Cambridge life.