From Wednesday to Saturday of 7th week (3rd -6th of March), the Torpids rowing competition will take place on the Oxford stretch of the Thames, locally called the “Isis”. That is, weather permitting of course.
For those new to the Oxford rowing scene, Torpids is a bumps rowing race for Oxford colleges which takes place in either 6th or 7th week of Hilary Term every year. In a bumps race; each boat lines up in a staggered start with a length and half of a boat between each crew. The aim for each crew is to then try to catch the boat in front of them and achieve a “bump”. There are three ways to bump the crew in front: one can gain overlap so that the cox of the opposition crew is forced to concede in order to avoid a crash, one can clean overtake the opposing crew or finally one can physically bump into them. Hence the name “bumps racing”.
If a crew manages to do one of the above, and get a bump then on the next day of racing, this crew will be moved one place further up the division. The ultimate aim of Torpids for all crews is to get what are known as “blades” (ornamental blades with the names of one’s crew on). These are given to a crew that manages to bump the boat in front of them on each of the four days of the competition.
Those are the basics of the competition and if you fancy going down to the river to catch a glimpse of this great sporting spectacle this week; then besides one’s own college crews to support; who are the ones to watch? Well, one can never go wrong with watching the cream of the crop of Oxford’s rowers in the men’s first division. Christ Church M1, after a great performance last year moved them from 4th to 1st in the men’s first division, will be eager to keep the coveted “Head of the River” spot this week. However, they face stern competition from the other powerhouses of college rowing: Pembroke and Magdalen who will be keen to end Christ Church’s dominance of college rowing over the last two years.Lower down the divisions, Wolfson M1 have been racking up some good times in the Isis Winter League regattas this year (winning the last two) and are likely to smash through the Men’s division 2. Worcester and Wadham will likewise be trying to build on good performances in regattas earlier in the season, and will look to cement places in the first division.
On the women’s side of things; the battle for the “Head of the River” spot is between St Catz, Christ Church, Magdalen and Oriel. Then Trinity, belying their position at the top of division 3, have also impressed this year and will almost certainly move up the divisions. At the other end of the spectrum there are also the 2nd, 3rd and 4th eights who qualified for the competition last Friday in what is called “rowing on”. The winners of rowing on: St Hilda’s M1 in the men’s and LMH W2 in the women’s will almost certainly challenge for blades this year and could provide some good viewing.
Having said this, the form book does perhaps mean next to nothing when it comes to bump racing; in which the outcome of a race is usually decided within the first 500 metres and in which the slightest steering mistake by a cox could lead to a huge tumble all the way down a division.
One thing is for sure however, that the racing this week (weather permitting) will be as close as ever and will be a great viewing spectacle. So get yourselves down to the river from Wednesday to Saturday this week and witness one of Oxford’s best sporting spectacles.