Now it’s time for a rowing lesson!
Torpids, a massive boat race amongst all the Oxford colleges, occurs every Hilary term during seventh week. All the qualifying boats are separated into divisions based on their performance the year before. Within each division, 13 boats line up about 1500 meters from boathouse island with 1.5 boat lengths between each boat. At the sound of a cannon, all the boats start rowing towards an end line just past boathouse island. Here’s a video of a race start if you are keen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4IHl2dYADI.
The aim of the race is to catch the boat in front by bumping. A bump can occur in three ways:
1) One boat completely rows past the boat in front. This really only happens if a boat runs into the bank (or into a tree) and must stop moving. Although you may think all rowers can will their boat in a beautifully straight line down the river, running into the bank occurs quite frequently. Many coxes have at least one story about bumping a tree rather than the boat in front of them.
2) The bow of one boat physically bumps the boat in front. This one is actually quite dangerous, as the region the bow will bump is right at the cox’s seat. If the bumping boat doesn’t stop immediately upon boat-boat contact, which is quite difficult when you are going at full speed, then the cox could be hit with the bow’s blade or impaled with the back point of the bumping boat … because most coxes don’t want to be mortally injured they usually avoid physical contact by …
3) Concession: the cox of the boat being bumped raises his or her hand to show they recognize the impending danger.
How many bumps can you pick out in this video? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqyTP80J-PU. Also, look out for the St. Anne’s women’s second boat (blue shirts and red blades)!
Once a boat bumps it can drop out of the race … this a huge incentive as it means you don’t have to row a 2k as fast as possible.
I rowed in one of the qualifying races and then during the first day of torpids. It was quite nerve-racking to sit in a line of boats, blade posed for the first draw, waiting for the cannon to fire. Our boat bumped Trinity really early on … within 400 meters of our starting point. An early bump was a great relief, as we had a lot of balancing issues in our practices leading up to the race.
Saturday of Torpids is one of the most exciting days of Hilary term. There will be another race in Trinity, Summer Eights, which should be even more fun, as many of the Blues rowers come back (the people who row in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race in the spring) and it will be warm(ish … or rainy).
Weather update: it’s raining.