Last week was a highlight of Trinity term, and a highlight of the year if you are a rower – the Summer Eights! This unique rowing competition takes place over four days, with colleges competing each day to ‘bump’, i.e., catch up with, the boat in front of them.

The lead-up to this year’s Summer VIIIs began in Hilary. Sadly, the poor weather conditions kept our boats off the water for most of the term and well into the vac. Morale remained high, however, and we were all motivated to train hard on land and wait for better weather. The sun finally came out and the waters abated at the start of Trinity Term, when a run of glorious spring mornings enabled us to start making up for lost time on the river. We therefore headed into this year’s VIIIs with a feeling of cautious optimism, determination to do well, and lots of pride in what our various crews had achieved together. Open Captain Hector Ravenscroft (Ancient and Modern History, 2022) has provided this brilliant report of how the VIIIs unfolded.

Four Teams, Four Days: Here’s How it Went

Day 1 – Wednesday 22nd May

The first day of Summer VIIIs dawned grey and rainy, and stayed that way. Despite this, two of the SBC boats managed to row-over (for a definition of what these rowing terms all mean, see the handy glossary provided below). The W1 boat (women’s first boat) made a splendid start, leaving the St Peter’s boat quite unable to catch them. The M2 boat (men’s second boat) also rowed over. They should have bumped the Univ M4 boat in front, but were prevented on a technicality which both coxes allowed. The M1 and W2 were bumped by Univ M2 and Teddy Hall W2, respectively. Onto the next day…

Day 2 – Thursday 23rd May

With the dawn of the second day of racing came renewed hope for Somerville’s eager crews. It began with a quick bump off the start from the M2 who rapidly caught Wolfson M4 long before Donny Bridge, the crew surging forwards right from the cannon. The W2 also raced well, and indeed were making good ground back on the Teddy Hall W2, but unfortunately were thwarted by the newly formed Reuben W1. M1 was also bumped by New M2, but the day ended on a high as the W1 fought off another attempt by St Peter’s W1 to hold their place, finishing close behind LMH W1, and thus concluding the second day of Summer VIIIs.

Day 3 – Friday 24th May

Now deep into their bumps campaign, SCBC’s crews arrived on Friday keen to make some ground on the colleges ahead. M2 started strong, but had their hopes dashed when the boats ahead of them quickly bumped out, leaving them the task of fending off a powerful Green Templeton M3, and resulting in a heroic row-over. Somerville would meet boathouse neighbours St Peter’s again on the third day, this time in Women’s Division 5 where, after a hard row, Peter’s managed to bump the Somerville W2. The M1 came back fighting against a New M2 whose lead they cut down to half a length, and would have bumped had Wolfson M2 not reached Somerville first. With St Peter’s lead at the top of Women’s Division 3 toppled, the Somerville W1 faced a new challenge from Merton, and were bumped just approaching the halfway mark.

Day 4 – Saturday 25th May

The final day of Summer VIIIs arrived with crowds flocking to the boathouses for a thrilling day of racing in the sun. The M2 began strong and were within metres of Mansfield M2 before they themselves bumped out after catching Univ M4. However, the team was not disheartened, and dug in to attempt an over-bump with much of the race yet to be rowed. Unfortunately though, despite the M2 making good ground, the race was claxoned before they could reach Christ Church M3. The W2 ended their season on a high after revenge bumping the same St Peter’s W2 which had beaten them the day before, ensuring that Somerville ultimately finished ahead of their boathouse rivals in the rankings. M1 was faced with the daunting task of holding their space in the division against the St Anne’s M1, with the race being closely contested and much anticipated. After a course-long dogfight though, the Somerville M1 came out victorious to defend their spot. The W1 would race twice, firstly in a third successful escape from St Peter’s W1 to have the chance to break back into Women’s Division 2, and secondly to try to secure it, though after a powerful performance they were unable to do so after Merton bumped out themselves by catching Trinity.

Conclusion:

After a great week of racing, all four Somerville crews had shown their metal against their rival colleges. In 2025 the M1 and W1 will be chasing New College M2 and Trinity W1 respectively, with the M2 and W2 provisionally to face Univ M4 and Baliol W2, pending qualification. Returning to their desks, Somerville’s rowers can finish the year in the knowledge that they have filled the college with pride, and begin their preparations for an even better 2024/25 season.

Summer VIIIs: The Glossary

Blades: Illuminated oars traditionally awarded to crews which gain a bump each day of racing or finish Head of the River.

Bump: When you catch up and draw level with the boat in front.

Bungline: A length of rope attached to the bank to mark the starting position for each boat. The cox takes hold of the line and only releases on the start gun.

Rowing Over: You didn’t get caught by another boat (otherwise known as getting ‘bumped’) but also didn’t bump the boat ahead.

Sandwich boat: The top boat in each division rows twice: in their own division and at the bottom of the division above as the ‘sandwich boat’. If they manage to bump, they are promoted to the division above. Crews bumped by the sandwich boat are relegated to the division below.

Spoons: The unwanted acclaim of finding yourself bumped each day.

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