Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Rowing Career

My post last week about bumps charts and the video above (which I discovered on Chris Partridge's Rowing for Pleasure blog) reminded me of my rowing career...

In my second year at college, a group of my friends and I (all with zero rowing experience) decided that we would enter an eight in the Cambridge May Bumps. There is a long and honorable tradition of inexperienced amateurs rowing in the Bumps in the lower divisions. I think we were in the 7th Division (out of 8) but we were probably one of the worst crews ever to chance our luck.

By the way, if you have no idea what "bumps" is all about you should first read May Bumps on Wikipedia (which is renowned for its truthiness.) I don't see any point in explaining it all again here.

A few of our number were college athletes (rugby or hockey players as I recall) but at least half of us were totally unfit science geeks who never took any exercise other than walking from the college to the nearest pub most evenings. My room-mate Steven had done a bit of rowing at school so he offered to coach us. One of my friends, Paul, agreed to cox. He wasn't a terribly big chap but he was probably the heaviest cox on the river that year.

We trained hard. At least a couple of sessions a week for three or four weeks. I remember two things from the training. One was that Steven (who followed us on his bike on the towpath) was always shouting, "You're late Two!" (My friend Robin was rowing at #2 on the boat.) But the thing that really sticks in my memory was the day when we were rowing flat out and Paul managed to steer us into a direct collision with a cabin cruiser moored at the side of the river. It was an even more spectacular crash than the one in the video. I have no idea why he did this. It wasn't as if the Cam was especially narrow at that point. But then he was no more incompetent as a cox than the rest of us were as rowers.

Come the first day of the May Bumps we were totally shocked when we "rowed over" meaning we rowed the whole course without catching the boat in front or being bumped by the boat behind. I think that was probably because the six boats who started behind us (maybe even more) were all involved in bumps early in the race and so dropped out. We had never even rowed the whole course at full pace before.

We were immensely proud of our achievement. Rowing over in the Bumps! I took my girlfriend for tea at the Union and felt I had finally arrived as a "Cambridge man."

Unfortunately we were bumped every day on the remaining three days of the Bumps. One of them may have been one of those ignominious overbumps (where the boat who started three places behind you catches you) or perhaps even an even more ignominious double overbump. (Don't ask.)

As luck would have it, our college first crew was Head of the River that year. So we enjoyed the rare pleasure of attending a college Bumps Supper for the winning college. All I can say is that what happens at a Bumps Supper stays at a Bumps Supper. And anyway I was too drunk to remember clearly much of what transpired... except I vaguely remember a lot of singing... and a huge fight... and a fire. Hmmm. I wonder who paid for all the damage.

Anyway. That was my career as a rower. I think that was why I decided to become a sailor.


JP said...

Congrats natsci - Fitzbillies Chelsea Buns for tea I hope!

I never rowed once when there - early mornings plus cold winds seemed an unappetising combination. But then I missed out on those rowers parties, which do sound spectacular.

Tillerman said...

Oh, we didn't row in the early mornings. I think it was usually in the afternoons. And the weather isn't all that cold in May and June.

Mojo said...

Wonderful account, Tillerman, of (just a few) of the mis-spent days of your youth. I'm actually surprised that you weren't drawn in to a lifetime of rowing after such an eventful baptism! BTW, as I was poking around the web to research the Bumps racing history (of which I had not been aware prior to your post), I found a superb description written by a cox to prepare her crew for the race: http://www.clarehall.cam.ac.uk/index.php?id=446

The short video was a good one too. Having rowed in the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston for many years, I've seen firsthand quite a few occurrences of an irresistable force meeting an unmovable object--usually one of the several bridges dissecting the 3 mile course. It's quite the nightmare for a novice coxswain!

Tillerman said...

No, I never did that style of rowing again Mojo. Next boaty thing I tried (after I graduated) was whitewater kayaking. That was even more disastrous than my rowing career. But that's a story for another day,

Joe said...

Fantastic story. I especially liked the line "but at least half of us were totally unfit science geeks who never took any exercise other than walking from the college to the nearest pub most evenings." I was in the Navy, and when we hit the beach (Terra firma), we never took any exercise other than walking from the boat (ship) to the nearest bar (pub) every evening.

Tillerman said...

I guess I exaggerated a little. We also walked back from the pub.

Baydog said...

In a less straight line than to!

Anonymous said...

Did you know that Laser also made a rowing shell? Here is a link to an old brochure:

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