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Monday, 7 July 2014

Cambridge Bumps - And a Bordeaux Rosé from The Wine Society

 A Cambridge Bumps garden party with Gareth John of First Intuition

With its rather comedic-sounding name, the Cambridge Bumps conjures up images of It's a Knockout-type silly competitions. The reality could be hardly more different it; is almost sadistically competitive.

The Bumps are a series of rowing races between teams from the Cambridge colleges, all starting a boat length apart, along a two-mile stretch of the Cam and running over five days.

When the starting gun sounds, all the boats set off with the same aim - to reach the boat in front and either "bump" it (hence the name) or overtake it. At this point, both boats pull over to the side and let the followers through to carry on their respective races.

There is a somehat pagan feel to what happens next - the bumping boat crew decorate themselves with headresses made from the reeds and branches by the riverbank and receive the plaudits of the crowd as they parade leisurely down the river to the finish line. (The bumped boat, by contrast, completes an ignomious "row of shame" in stony silence to the finish).

The only way to approach the bumps, then, is as a full-on sprint in which you try to catch the boat in front as quickly as possible. There is no defensive strategy possible.

Aim simply not to be overtaken and there is a winding two-mile course to be completed, the sprint becoming a strength-sapping marathon.

But, of course, everyone is on exactly the same strategy; it is brutal.

The more-technical details of the bumps are that it works like a squash league - bump a boat in front and you move up a place, succeed in avoiding being bumped all week and you get to fly a flag at the end of your boat. There are three cannon shots to count down to a race - one at five minutes, at one minute and to start.

A boat with flags means it has not been bumped at any point during the week-long races
A team of supporters rides alongside the boats with whistle calls - once for general encouragement, two for approaching the next boat and three for almost touching.

Boats can cost up to £50,000 so an alternative to bumping is simply for the cox of the losing boat to raise a hand in an acknowledgement of defeat.
A cox's raised hand indicates that defeat is conceded
More arcane details are that if your team kills a member of an opposing team during a race, you are banned from further competition; however, at least two colleges have got around this by renaming their teams.

One of the best ways to see the bumps, if you can, is from a garden backing on to the river - we were lucky enough to do this with some friends and brought along a couple of bottles of wine to pass the afternoon with.

I wanted something easy-drinking and inexpensive, but well-made and enjoyable, so I chose a Bordeaux rosé from The Wine Society.

Château Bel Air Perponcher, Réserve 2012 rosé (Bordeaux) pale salmon-pink, ripe stone and red berry fruit, refreshing and persistent with a mineral finish. Well-made and a perfect picnic wine.

Other related articles
Punting and Fitzbillies
The Orchard Tea Gardens

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