Wednesday, 15 June 2011

May Bumps 2011 - Day 1

Project work got stupid for the last two weeks, which is why this blog has been totally neglected and hasn't seen a real post in over a month. I did actually write a fairly big post on Bitcoins but then I re-read it, decided it was fairly shit, and so didn't post it.

But now it is the time of May Bumps, where I can make fairly easy posts that at least half the people who read this blog give a shit about (and the other half completely don't).

A couple of weeks ago I made vague hand-wavey predictions to how M2 would do in the races this week. I basically said we could be fast, but that we needed to get the technique sorted and gel as a crew, or we probably would be aiming to hold station at best. I have to admit, until a week and a half ago I was probably leaning more to the side of restraint and pessimism, with the simple fact being that we didn't seem to have a particularly huge amount of speed, and being at the top of the second division and being surrounded by first boats, we'd need a huge amount of speed if we were going to move up much.

Then Leo came and shaped us a bit, and last weekend we did some sparring with M1 and we basically won. They were quicker, but they really weren't that much quicker, and in the first five or ten strokes we were actually the faster crew. We did a timed piece from the A14 Bridge to The Plough, and demonstrated that we maybe did have the speed to take some boats on.

The real test was today, and that's where the nerves seemed to be too. The way bumps racing works puts a lot of emphasis on the first day. If you bump then you'll be likely to keep the momentum up and have a fairly good week, and if you get bumped (and it's not down to an equipment failure/crab/bad luck) then the next day you're unlikely to claim the place back, and suddenly the week feels very much in the hands of damage limitation.

I don't know if I'd just forgotten how bad it had been in the past, or if it really was worse than normal, but I was absolutely nervous as fuck today, from pretty much the moment I got to the boathouse to around a minute after the starting gun went. I would say forget past races, forget exams, forget important presentations I've had to give - in that eerie ten seconds of silence before the starting gun I was more nervous than I've ever been in my entire life. There was mild joking and banter when we were marshalling, but to be honest, I was completely bricking it. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the other guys were as well. The combination of the importance of the first day with not really knowing how fast we were compared to the crews around us really made it fairly tough.

Because of carnage during earlier divisions they were running late, meaning we didn't get any practice starts on the row up. I didn't say anything, but in my experience the first attempt at a start in the day is generally pretty crap, which is why I really don't like not being allowed at least one practice on the way up, but that's how it was. And boy was that first start a pile of crap (this being the start of the actual race).

It felt scrappy, it felt nervous, it felt panicked. Al taking a pretty big air-stroke for the second stroke of the race didn't help much either. Al asked for a second rhythm call, I gave it, and things calmed down a little, but they were still all over the place into First Post corner. We were still quick, and we moved up quite a bit on Selwyn I in front of us, but it definitely wasn't pretty. From what I could gather from what Al could gasp out between strokes, LMBC II weren't far off us behind, which probably didn't help the panic much either. It certainly didn't calm me down, because I can see fuck-all happening behind us or how far people are from our stern.

It stayed in the scrappy-but-quick state through the Gut and around Grassy, where our extreme spacking was captured fairly well in a photo by City of Cambridge RC:

We might not be one of the best crews on the river technically, but we can definitely manage to row a lot better than the bunch of doyles in that photo. It sums up the quality of the race until that point pretty well. What it doesn't show is the ten seconds prior to that photo where I had my heart in my mouth because I was concentrating on Selwyn a tad too much, and very nearly took the corner too tightly and crashed us into the inside bank. We were a matter of centimetres off clipping the foliage there, and I definitely didn't feel at the time like we had the stability (or space behind us) to cope with strokeside's blades catching on some branches.

Anyway, coming out of Grassy we had a fairly good rally, and then it suddenly clicked together a lot more. Plus LMBC II ran wide, giving us a fair bit of breathing space behind us, and it probably helped calm the panic a bit. We picked up some good speed out the corner, and started to really reel in Selwyn. It felt like the whole Plough Reach was just a continuous call to keep pushing hard and go for the kill. It's bloody hard from the coxes seat to have any decent judge of how far off they are, especially given that I can't see where my own bow is, and from about a quarter of a length away the best judge of distance I can really give is "we've almost got them". They held off us fairly well, to the point at which we seemed to start pushing them into hitting Peterhouse, but thankfully Ditton corner came to our rescue.

As info for non-rowers, boats slow down a fair bit with the rudder on, meaning that at the entrance to a corner the boat behind has the advantage because they'll be putting their rudder on later, and therefore braking the boat later. There was just enough space to get on the inside of Selwyn for the corner, and we had overlap, which meant I could go pretty much straight on into the corner and clip them as they steered round, which is exactly what happened.

After hitting them, there was the standard mix of joyous celebration and panicked GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY, which wasn't helped by the fact that we were trying to clear to the outside while still overlapping Selwyn, which meant it took a bit longer than it perhaps should have done, but we did get out of the way.

It was far from our best row, but we got the result tomorrow, and Peterhouse seem to be pretty hittable based on how far off Selwyn they were today (ie. less than their station distance). I'd say as long as we fuck up only as much or less as we did today then things are looking fairly good for tomorrow, though the conditions will most likely be different (ie. even more windy/wet) and bumps racing generally isn't that predictable. Still, currently looking good for the week, and Girton seemed a fair bit slower than I expected them to be, even if they did eventually bump LMBC II.

W1 did a decent job today, bumping Pembroke pretty hard to go head of the division. There's still three days left, but I'd expect them to hold it for the rest of the week, though I doubt the crews behind will make it particularly easy. M1 bumped Jesus after a pretty tough slog to the railings, moving up to 4th, and it'll probably be a fairly hard-fought fight with Pembroke tomorrow. M3 were a bit unlucky to be forced to row-over in a division where pretty much everyone else bumped out, and from the race reports (and photos) W2 got pretty damn close to a bump before they ran out of steam and eventually got caught by Hughes Hall. Still, on the whole not a bad set of results for the senior crews. Really looking forward to the rest of the week.

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