Queens’ II had been the target right from the very beginning of term: with every outing, every erg, our only goal was to bump them on Day 1. After weeks of training, the big moment finally arrived – it was time to test what Sidney M1 were made of.
After a term of some frustration, our initial burst under the Railway Bridge on the row down to station was strong and aggressive. Our standing start in front of the Plough was one of the best yet, and our above-race-pace burst down First Post Reach helped get out a few jitters about the race that then lay before us. We spun on station near the lock. Our coaches, Silvia Breu (our strategist on the towpath and the one giving us whistles), David Winch, who pushed us out, and Michael Burcher, who encouraged us each race, helped us remain calm and focused. At the four-minute gun, we closed our eyes and visualized our start. At the one minute gun, a familiar silence descended amongst the crew as we breathed deeply, rechecked our equipment, and tried to suppress any nerves we had. At thirty seconds we were pushed off pointed towards the racing line. Fifteen….ten, nine, eight, square, six, five…GUN. With a jolt we were off with a punchy start. The water was rough, and the chop under the Motorway Bridge and through the Outflow caused a momentary panic before we re-resettled into our strong rhythm and started to gain inch by inch on Queens’ ahead of us. They fought hard, though, and had a whistle on Darwin I ahead of them. Coming up to First Post Corner, Queens’ dropped back and we were ready to capitalize on their lost momentum. Into the Corner, one whistle. Halfway through the Gut, a second whistle from Silvia and then quickly a third going through Grassy Corner. Bow and 3 took us tight through the bend and on the exit we heard continuous whistles. With a kill move, the Pollard, our boat, surged forward towards Queens’. There was nothing they could do; we got them right before the Plough.
A Turn of Events and Day 4
We achieved what we hoped to accomplish on the first day. Wednesday was our rest day, but no one saw what was coming later in the day. Blinding snow, strong winds and forceful gusts, breaking swells on the river, ice on the towpath, and sub-zero temperatures. Half of the divisions were cancelled, and the forecast for Thursday showed no signs of improvement, and the races were aborted – the first time since 1963. The weather was tough, but for Sidney M1, it wasn’t the end of our troubles. Thursday evening we learned that our Stroke, Hamish Scott, came down with a cold and couldn’t row the next day. The Stroke, the one whose rhythm we had all learned to follow, is the most crucial rower in the boat, and to have lost him in the middle of Bumps was devastating. “Now what?” we asked ourselves. After a panicked mini-conference between Hamish, Silvia, and myself, we agreed that there was only one man for the job: Philip Saville. Out of everyone in the Club now, Philip has the most experience in M1, but wasn’t rowing this term because of an injury over the Christmas holiday. Would he have the stamina and strength to race the most intense racing of the year? The task before him was Herculean. Nevertheless, he agreed, and at Silvia’s recommendation, M1 assembled early Friday morning to teach Philip the start and to try to find a new rhythm together. Well, if we thought the conditions were bad Thursday, we had no idea what hit us Friday. The river was so bad that it was actually terrifying, and we all expressed our uncertainty about racing later that day. Mid-morning, the call was made: racing would continue. Like it or not, we had to do this. Everything was on the line, and we had to make the most of the situation. After a strong warm up on a much calmer river, we gained a bit of confidence. “Maybe we can actually pull this off, despite all the odds.” Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven (Philip remembered he should probably come to ¾ slide now). Six. Five. GUN. We were off, with Queens’ behind, fast out of the blocks and eager for the revenge bump. But we weren’t worried about them; we knew we were faster, and our bow was set on bumping into Downing II ahead. The first whistle on Downing came before First Post, and we sat at that one whistle for what seemed like an eternity. It wasn’t until the exit of Grassy with our cox, Paavan Sawjani’s (now Captain) incredibly tight steering that we earned our second, but just after the Plough they couldn’t escape, and succumbed to us after putting in a solid row.
Our third race on Day 5 was against a long-held rival of the Sidney First Men’s Boat: Clare II. Like every Bumps race, the air was filled with contingency – were they going to catch the boat before we caught them? Would Downing come back and bump us? The possibilities are enough to drive one to madness, so rather than focus on them, we pushed off from the boathouse treating the outing like it was just another day at the office. If we focused in the boat on each other, and didn’t worry about everything happening around us, we could at least row our best. And, that’s just what we did. After the start and a strong row down First Post Reach, we earned our first whistle going into the corner and then rapidly went from two going into Grassy, to three coming out of the corner to continuous once we straightened out. Heartbreakingly, we went back down to three whistles as Clare pushed and moved off our advance. But, a few strokes later, we were back on continuous and weren’t going to go away. We pushed our hardest, giving everything we had, and won our third bump going into Ditton Corner. With ‘Three cheers for Clare!’ we donned our greenery for the third time that week and headed home with our heads held high.
The weather and the odds were against Sidney M1 this Bumps. Despite our freezing hands, despite losing Hamish for two days, despite having a sub in the Stroke seat who hadn’t rowed for months and who hadn’t trained for Bumps since this time last year, we did something we had only hoped for. Up 3. It’s the most successful Lent Bumps campaign M1 have had in recent memory, and the extraordinary conditions endured by the boys is one for the books.
Philip rose to the challenge and led us to those two bumps – without him, we would have been lost. His determination and belief in the crew solidified our efforts and together we did it. The boys would like to congratulate and thank him especially, and it seemed all the more fitting that later that evening we witnessed Philip inherit that coveted blazer belonging to our Men’s Captain. We wish him well in his new role, and know his leadership will only enhance this Club.
Thanks are also due to our dedicated bank party, Silvia, Michael, David, Roly Beevor, who pushed us off on Friday, and Phil Wilkinson, who cheered us on and filmed our final race against Clare. It’s been a tough term, but this Bumps campaign proved to us all what can be achieved with determination, perseverance, and a little bit of luck. We’re already looking forward to Mays. And the sun.