I am back in Oxford, on the bank of the Isis, watching the Summer Eights bumps races. The last time I was here I was taking part, and it was 18 years ago. Argh! How old does THAT make me feel?!
Some things change – the old Univ boathouse burned down 6 years ago, blades are now cleavers rather than macons, and all the rowers are clad in lycra – still considered very modern and rather risque in 1989.
But other things don’t change – the surge of adrenaline I still get when the starter’s gun fires; the determined grimaces on the rowers’ faces; coaches whizzing along the towpath on bicycles with scant regard for their own or anybody else’s safety.
This is where I started my rowing career, long before I dreamed of rowing an ocean.
The objective of bumps racing is to catch up with and then hit the boat in front. Once contact is made both crews stop rowing, and the next day they swap places in the starting order.
A good crew with a fast start might only have to row fewer than 100 strokes in the whole 4 days of racing… compared with the million strokes or so it will take me to get across the Atlantic.