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A guide to Summer Eights 2018

Written by Eleanor Sanger, posted on Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Christ Church crew rowing in Summer EightsFifth Week of Trinity Term always sees the return of Summer Eights, this year held from 23-26 May. It’s a yearly rowing competition between Oxford colleges – the main intercollegiate rowing event of the year – and over 1000 people take part. Not to mention the hordes of people who turn up to support their college, joining in the party atmosphere on Boathouse Island and the banks of the Thames to watch their college crews compete.

Crews are made up of 8 rowers and a cox (hence ‘Eights’), and there are different divisions for men’s and women’s crews – 7 for men and 6 for women. The crews row down a 1800m stretch of the Thames, known as the Isis in Oxford – this part of the river is very narrow, so instead of rowing side by side like in the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, the boats are actually one behind the other. In each division, 13 boats line up, with each cox holding onto a rope attached to the bank, and around 1.5 boat lengths between each boat.

Once the cannon fires, carnage ensues. Well, not quite. But these are ‘bumps’ races, meaning that the aim is to ‘bump’ the boat in front of you (i.e. crash into it – you can also overtake the back of their boat, but where’s the fun in that?), whilst also ensuring that you are not ‘bumped’ by the boat coming up behind you. Once a bump has taken place, both of the boats move to the bank to allow the other boats to go on ahead. If you’re really lucky you might even ‘over bump’, if the two crews in front of you bump (and therefore drop out of the race), and you manage to catch up with and bump the boat in front of them.

Racing in Summer EightsIf you end up reaching the finish line without either bumping or being bumped, you’ve ‘rowed over’, and stay in the same position in your division. The two boats that ‘bumped’ swap places for the next day of racing – so you’ll end up starting either higher up or further down in the division than you were the day before.

If you finish top of your division on a particular day, on that day your crew also rows as the lowest boat in the next division up, which is called being the ‘sandwich boat’. The crew then has the chance to ‘bump up’, catching the crew in front of them, which replaces them as the ‘sandwich boat’ and rows in both their current division and the one below. If they don’t manage to catch the other crew, they just row as top of the lower division on the following day.

 The ultimate aim is to be crowned ‘Head of the River’ – top of the first division. Christ Church’s M1 crew (our best men’s crew) gained this accolade last year, so will be aiming to retain the title as we go into this week’s racing! This achievement also earns you the right to commission trophy oars in your college colours, with the name of the winning crew on them – this is when you win ‘blades’. These blades usually end up being put on show somewhere in college (perhaps in the bar or buttery), and a chalk drawing is put on one of the quads to commemorate this momentous occasion.

To make things more interesting for crews who aren’t anywhere near the top of Division One, you can also win blades by bumping on every day of the competition. But the exact criteria for this vary from college to college.

The other accolade it’s possible to win during Eights is ‘spoons’, which isn’t an accolade at all. It is in fact an actual wooden spoon, which you ‘win’ if you’re bumped every day. Someone in the boat club paints a spoon in your blades colours, with the crew the back and a list of all the crews that bumped you, and you get to keep it forever to remind you of your failure. Brutal.

Watching the racing at Summer EightsEights is also great as a spectator sport – bumps can be exciting races to watch, and everyone gets behind their teams with a great college representation at each of the boathouses. Drinks are flowing, the sun’s out (if you’re lucky), and it’s a great way for the college to come together and support each other (and indulge in a fair bit of standard college rivalry).

This year we have a total of 7 crews taking part (4 male and 3 female), and we’ll be looking to extend our record-breaking number of Headships to 34!

So there we are, a potted guide to Summer Eights in all its glory. Follow @ChChBC on Twitter to get regular updates on how they’re getting on, come down to the river to see for yourself, or visit the Boat Club website to find out more.