Confused about Bumps? The Tab explains it all.

May Bumps are the culmination of a year of hard work for college crews, and the most inclusive event in the boatie calendar.

So if you’re down on the Cam from Wednesday to Saturday, and want to know what’s going on, here’s our guide to the week.

The event:
• Unlike Lent Bumps, the Mays are just four days. No rest days this term!
• There are six men’s divisions, and four women’s divisions. Each division has 17 crews, with 8 rowers and one cox per crew. That’s 1530 people involved in the Bumps altogether.
• 20 men’s and 13 women’s crews also tried to qualify in the ‘Getting-On Race’. This is an attempt for some of the lower crews to try and secure a place in a division, and is sorted by a race the week before.
• Unlike in Lent, May Bumps see the return of Blues rowers to the college scene.
• The position that a crew finishes in at the end of the year is the position in which they start the following year, so it is an aim of clubs to perform consistently well and move up the divisions.
• The top boat of each lower division (the ‘sandwich’ boat) also races at the bottom of the next division, giving them a chance to progress into that division.
• The ultimate aim of each club is to hold the headship position, although this is only ever a realistic objective for the top 5 crews. It is this sense of continuous racing, year on year, which gives the bumps its uniqueness as an event.
• It is also possible to earn bumps glory by bumping every day, in which case a crew is said to have earned ‘blades’. This means they are entitled to a commemorative oar with the names of the crew, and the crews bumped, on it.

An example of a commemorative blade

• Alternatively, for those crews that fall everyday, ‘spoons’ are awarded.
• Speed in not necessarily, however, the only factor. A certain amount of luck is involved: it is not uncommon that the fastest boats fail to do well, due to slower crews bumping out ahead of them, or unfortunate incidents which change the course of the event.

The race itself:
• Crews start with one and a half lengths of clear water (about 90 feet) between them. After warnings both four and one minute beforehand, crews set off at the firing of a cannon, chasing each other over the 2.2km course.
• The aim of the races is to ‘bump’ the crew in front, before being bumped by the crew behind.
• A ‘bump’ occurs when one crew is literally hit by the chasing crew, or if the crew being bumped acknowledges that it is about to be hit, thus avoiding any physical contact of the boats, each worth thousands of pounds.
• Once a bump has happened, the two crews involved pull into the bank. The crew behind has to carry on to the finish (‘rowing-over’), or if it catches the boat ahead of the bumping pair, it is said to have ‘over-bumped’ and moves up three places.

Last year’s M1 division racing hard

•The next day, all crews involved in a ‘bump’ swap places with the crew they bumped, and the racing starts all over again.
• While the crews are busy trying to hit each other, the towpath is littered with supporters, and bank parties, who try to encourage the crews with various whistles and bells to signify (often dubious) distances between them and the crew ahead.

The history:
• As side-by-side races are not possible over most of the length of the Cam, the bumps were introduced in 1827 as an exciting alternative.
• Jesus hold the record for the most headships, standing at 28 at the moment, combining both men’s and women’s results.
• Trinity and Lady Margaret (St John’s) follow, with 25 and 19 headships respectively.

Mays:
•The lower divisions of Mays often provide some of the most excitement. Filled with ‘beer boats’, crews often contain people who have barely stepped in a boat before, upping the entertainment value considerably.
•These crews often dress up, so if lycra isn’t your thing, watch these divisions.
•On Saturday especially, tonnes of spectators line the banks complete with pimms, with many colleges throwing garden parties, attracting even the most unenthusiastic boatie supporter.
•Indeed, according to one non-rower observer, there’s an additional benefit: “it’s just a huge gun show – definitely not to be missed out on”.

Who to watch out for this year:
• First and Third (Trinity) are currently of the men’s divisions, but lost the title in Lent and look set to do so again
• Caius, so successful last term, will again look to challenge for the headship, starting from third place.
• Downing, who start in fifth, have a chance of challenging for the headship, but will have to bump every day, while Catz have also looked strong this term.
• Downing will also look to take the headship on the women’s side from Pembroke, as early as day one.
• Newnham are another fast boat in the women’s first division, and will hope to push up from their starting position of seventh
• A full starting order can be found here.

Starting on Wednesday, the bumps will once again offer an exciting end of term spectacle. The May Bumps are always watched by hundreds, especially if the weather is good, in a post-exam party atmosphere.The Tab will be there, bringing you live updates and daily round ups from every division, and you will also be able to hear the whole four days unfold live with our partners at CamFM
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  • Non-boatie

    We hear about May Bumps anyway. A more useful guide would be one for boaties to teach them how to shut the fuck up about it.

  • Boring

    Rowing is shit

  • Yank

    If they are the May bumps, why is the race held in June?

    • Name

      For the same reason May Week is in June. According to Wikipedia, May Week originally took place in May before exams, hence the name. It kept the name when the time was changed.

  • Not a boatie

    Good article. I hate how boaties always assume we know all this boatie jargon and then get all annoyed when we ask them what stuff like "rowing over" means.