The squad returned to Cambridge a week before the start of Easter term to hit the ground running with training for May Bumps. Many alumni returned to help boatman Ian Watson coach the squad in the run up to the campaign and the end of the rugby season meant the return of M3, putting Downing in a strong position with six crews training.
One of the greatest legacies of this year’s Women’s Captain, Georgina Frater, was having three women’s crews training in May term. W3 was comprised of around ten enthusiastic rowers, keen to just get on the water and have a bit of fun. Although a W3 boat was not entered into Bumps itself, some really exciting progress was made. This sets the women’s squad up well for a promising year in 2017/18, while also proving to the sceptics that it is possible for rowing to not take over your entire life!
With just 8 weeks of training to take them from novice rowers to formidable bumps crew, M3 put in the work to make it to the start line of Bumps. The crew were keen to make their mark on the first day but some anti-phase rowing upon the rhythm call resulted in a bump after approximately 40 seconds.
Starting from first position (of division 5) on day two, M3 made a solid start and powered into the open water ahead. Despite the cheers from the bank, by the Plough the crew behind were starting to make ground and, after a valiant fight, Downing M3 were eventually caught just short of the railway bridge.
The third day saw a change in crew (partly due to Jordan Rush’s appendicitis), but M3 rowed as hard as they could to force the crew behind to dig deep for the bump. The full rugby boat line up returned for the final day of the campaign. Unfortunately their strong start just wasn’t enough and they were bumped going in to the Gut. As a reward for their Spoons, the crew were treated to front row seats for a ten-boat pile-up (in which fortunately no one was hurt) and some impressive acrobatics from one cox,
who had to stand and hurdle several blades in order
to avoid decapitation.
With a highly successful campaign in Lent Bumps and a crew with strong scores on the 2K erg tests, there were high expectations for Downing W2 heading into Mays. The first day was always going to be the most pressured, with W2 holding the unenvious position of the Sandwich Boat at the top of the Third Division. However, a quick settle into a calm rhythmic pace left the chasing crew (Clare W2) well out of sight by half way down the reach. Working efficiently, there was still plenty of energy left for the second race of the day. This time Downing were chasing Caius W2, but another quick start and rhythm meant cox Sophie Corrodi was already calling the ‘bumping ten’ at Newnham Bridge, achieving the bump in just over a minute of racing.
Heading into the second day in division 2, Downing managed a swift bump of Queens W2, again under Newnham Bridge. It was a tense chase closing those last few feet as Queens were also closing on Sidney Sussex W1 ahead but a cool determined rhythm led to another successful bump.
W2 entered the third day slightly apprehensive. They knew they could catch Sidney Sussex, having closed on them by a length the day before, but Corpus Christi ahead of them was making a swift descent down the Bumps charts. A rocky start out of the blocks meant it took a moment to find pace but W2 managed to close in quickly on Sidney Sussex. Unfortunately, Sidney Sussex bumped Corpus Christi so Downing set out for the over-bump. The boat had plenty of drive, with all the motivation to chase down another boat, but all the other boats in front had bumped out so W2 were left with a strong and proud row-over to work off the disappointment of losing their chance of Blades. Nevertheless, on the final day, the crew were ready for a swift bump, taking out Corpus Christi lengths before Newnham Bridge. Overall, it was a successful and enjoyable week, following the classic saying ‘lucky crews bump four times, good crews bump three’ placing W2 in a strong position for future years. A well-earned prosecco-armed trip to The Plough to support the other Downing crews rounded off a great term of rowing and celebrated a formidable crew.
M2 approached May Bumps with high hopes and strong potential for a multi-bump campaign. The first day saw a quick bump of Darwin M1, with Downing catching the crew soon after the first bridge in a race lasting a mere 90 seconds. M2 went into the second day hoping to keep the bumps flowing. Unfortunately, Corpus 1 bumping Jesus 2 by First Post corner, followed by many other bumps on the river, led to a solitary row over with little challenge ahead or behind.
The third day saw three M2s lined up, with FaT 2 chasing Downing and Downing chasing Jesus 2. After a very promising start, Downing reached overlap by First Post corner, but couldn’t quite close the final few inches needed for the bump, resulting in a close and long row to Bottom Finish with large periods of overlap. M2, despite putting in a very strong effort, returned home without the bump and very tired.
Moving strong off the start on the final day, M2 gained on Jesus, leaving FaT 2 in the distance. Reaching two whistles by first post, M2 rode the inside corners round First Post and Grassy, forcing the Jesus 2 cox to swing out wide and ultimately crash into a houseboat on the inside of the corner. Although the cox conceded before Downing could do any damage, M2 were happy (and relieved) to have a short and exciting finish to the Bumps campaign. Jesus were ultimately awarded £25 for the early concession but it was a strong row nonetheless. All in all, a very successful campaign, with two bumps and two row overs, putting Downing as the 3rd strongest second boat on the river (behind Caius and LMBC), and in good shape for future years.
W1 ended their May bumps campaign with Spoons, after being bumped on all four days. After 8 weeks of hard training this was certainly not ideal and, to make the experience even more painful, they had started the week in first place – on headship station. Spooning from headship is an honour reserved for only a handful of crews.
After the first day’s bump, Downing still had plenty of fight left. They dismissed the bump as a one-off, confident they could try and get Caius back the next day or at least comfort themselves with a strong row-over. However, the second day brought a second bump, this time by Jesus who had provided Downing with some very exciting racing during Lent Bumps the previous term. Just after Ditton corner the cox made the “last chance” call. As instructed, W1 upped the rate and power, emptied the tanks and held on for dear life to try and push them away. Coming wide out of the corner (to avoid the bump) was where something a bit unorthodox for a Bumps race began – a side by side battle up the straight Reach. In this situation, a bump can only be made when the bows of the two boats cross. Downing fought hard in the hope that Jesus might run out of steam first. It took about a minute of fighting down the Reach for the bump to be made and Downing felt satisfied they had tried their hardest to prevent it.
The third day was the low point. W1 were bumped again, this time by a crew who had come seemingly out of nowhere with a lot more power and speed than anyone had expected. By this point, W1 were surrounded by crews they had never expected to encounter in this year’s competition, knowing little about them except that they had some very strong rowers.
The fourth and final day should have been simple. No matter the result, there was one race left and after it was over W1 would be able to enjoy the freedom of Boat Club dinners, BBQs and May Week. The crew were all very much looking forward to no longer being restricted by the drinking-ban and went out with the intention to make their mark and not go down without a fight.
The start cannon went and a strong start set Downing up well for their final race as W1. They didn’t lose the crew ahead and managed to stay “inside station”. The crew behind were catching up but not as rapidly as crews had done on previous days. However, when they reached Ditton, something unusual happened. The crew ahead had stopped on the inside of the corner and had their arms up in the air celebrating (they had just bumped the crew in front of them), directly in the racing line. Fortunately, W1’s quick-thinking cox, Stephen Harris, told the crew to “Hold it up!”, stopping the boat dead. Umpires later said that had he not done this, the cox of the boat in front could have been killed! To thank Stephen for his brilliant coxing, he was awarded a fine of negative £25, leaving us in pocket.
Relieved the week was over, albeit in a rather dissatisfying way, W1 were already looking forward to the BCD. However, having pulled into the bank, the crew were informed by the umpires that they had two choices: accept a technical bump or take part in a re-row. The idea of accepting the bump when no contact had been made and Downing had been forced to stop in the name of safety was simply not an option, yet the idea of a re-row was almost as sickening. The adrenaline and nerves of the race had come and gone and the crew didn’t want them to return for a while. Realising there was only one option, W1 found themselves back on the start line counting down to their fifth race of the week, this time with only Newnham W1 behind and no incentive to chase a bump ahead. W1 were ultimately caught by the all-too-familiar Ditton corner and, after one of the most challenging Bumps campaigns the majority of the crew had experienced, they could finally relax.
Although this wasn’t the result W1 had hoped for, this by no means reflects the effort the crew put in. They have set themselves up for some very exciting racing in 2017/18; starting 3rd in Lents and 5th in Mays means there is plenty of potential to make some bumps and, with such a strong Women’s Squad, W1 will only continue to get better and stronger.
M1 came into Bumps with high confidence and high spirits. Injuries early in the term had restricted the number of ergs completed by some of the crew but every kilometre missed on the erg was more than doubled on the bike. The crew had also swapped out the weights of Michaelmas and Lent for a morning run, boosting fitness and feeding off their competitive nature. Some competition for seats early in the term kept the crew honest and the boat was feeling great, despite the fierce evening wind that plagued the outings.
However, on the Plough on day one of Bumps, all of that seemed like a lifetime ago. Perhaps it was nerves or maybe the turbulent water sent down by the crews in front but, whatever it was, M1’s rowing had not met their own high standards. This had allowed Peterhouse to press up towards Downing’s stern and First and Third to pull away a little. In this situation, it was the other side of training that came to the fore: most of the crew had spent all year with each other, completing as many as ten sessions a week for three terms along with swaps with the Tribe, dinners at ‘Spoons and Escape Rooms. They had been through the horror of day three of Lent Bumps and, most importantly, had confidence in themselves that they could chase down the crew ahead. The Reach was theirs and they were going to catch FaT.
Watching the now infamous live stream back, the crew were taken aback at how far ahead FaT were by this point but what wasn’t surprising was the increase in boat speed as they came away from Ditton corner. They had all felt it during the race as they pulled together, gobbling up the water, bumping FaT and stretching out their lead over Peterhouse.
Day one had been an impressive display of determination but M1 knew they needed more to progress further up the division. They were lucky on day one that FaT hadn’t caught Jesus and they knew they had to find their rhythm, row well and catch Jesus to keep their campaign moving. That is exactly what M1 did. Day two saw a mature, textbook Bumps row: a solid start despite bowman, Nathan Parker, having to do battle with the sewage outflow, a defined rhythm through the corners and another impressive step onto the Reach, before a satisfying ‘clunk’ and some splintered carbon fibre.
It is the nature of Bumps that each move up makes the next a little harder, as was proved on day three when M1 had a go at a very strong Pembroke crew. Not overly troubled by the just-bumped crew behind, they knew they could push hard and still have the energy to race all the way to the line. Downing gave Pembroke a fright, closing well within a length and holding them close until the end. The top end speed wasn’t quite there to close the last couple of meters but both crews knew that any small slip up the following day would be punished.
Day four would prove to be a fitting send off for men’s captain, Andrew Niven, in his final race for Downing and a suitably exciting last race for DCBC under Captain of Boats and M1 stroke, Ryan MacPherson. Peterhouse were back behind Downing again and had greatly improved over the four days- it was going to be a fight and Downing still had eyes on Pembroke in front. All three crews raced ferociously fast but it was the final sprint from the Railway Bridge to Top Finish where the real drama unfolded. Peterhouse made a mighty step, up four on the rate and moving fast. Just like on the first day, however, Downing did not panic. They responded and stepped and stepped again, giving everything to keep the stern clear. But as Peterhouse’s bow ball disappeared from view, the crew had every confidence they were going to clear it. A few strokes from the line Peterhouse’s bow ball made its last surge towards Downing’s stern and fell short. M1 had held them off and taken the boat up two places, back towards where Downing belongs: within striking distance of the Mays Headship! As soon as they crossed the finish line dishevelled cries of, “hold it up,” brought Downing to a halt alongside a Pembroke crew that had just been subjected to the same intense battle. Downing had closed to well within half a length. Not too much to find for next year…
A special thank you to all of this year’s committee, especially Women’s Captain Georgina Frater, Men’s Captain Andrew Niven and Captain of Boats Ryan Macpherson. Your blood, sweat and tears have ensured Downing moves into next year in as strong a position as ever and you will be a tough act to follow.
Feroces ad mortem
Thank you to Tom Reimer (M3), Sierra Humbert (W2), Ollie Boyne (M2), Georgina Frater (W1) and Matthew French (M1) for their contributions to this post.