Cambridge Boat Races

Traditional Punting Company

Cambridge Boating Events

Stepping away from our traditional punt tours there is a lot more that happens on our river and so we have written an article highlighting some of the great boat races that are held on the River Cam every year.

Cambridge Boat Race

This first race we are mentioning is probably the most famous boat race that Cambridge is known for, which is the Cambridge v Oxford University race. Unfortunately this race isn’t held on the River Cam in Cambridge due to its fairly sharp turns and narrow stretches, not to mention all of its low level bridges and punts!… Instead the varsity boat race takes place on the stretch of the River Thames in London between Putney and Mortlake. It is an nine man (including one coxswain) rowing race and was first started in 1829. It wasn’t until 1856 that it became an annual event, only stopping for the first and second world wars. The women’s Race swiftly followed suit and became an annual event in 1964. Since then these races have become a favourite in the university calendar. It is also enjoyed by vast numbers of the general public with up to 270,000 people lining the banks each year to watch the races as they unfold.

Currently the tallies for the mens race are fairly equal with Cambridge narrowly beating Oxford of 83 wins to 80 (there has also been one dead heat within this period). The women of Cambridge have a larger number of wins compared to their Oxford rivals standing at 43 to 30. 

Due to take place on Sunday 7th of April this year (2019), the excitement and rivalry surrounding the event  grows year upon year and is definitely a spectacle to behold, so do not miss out and cheer on Cambridge!! (We are potentially slightly biased here)

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As this article is meant to be about the boat races that are held on our treasured River Cam the events below all take place here in Cambridge, we just couldn’t help but talk about the famous varsity race first…

Dragon Boat Festival

As the name of the event suggests, it is a race between ‘dragon’ boats that hold up to 10 members of each team paddling to the beat of the drum to become the winner of the 200 meter straight course. The great thing about this race is that no prior experience is required, it is all about having fun in aid of charity, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust.

Dragon Boats themselves originate from the southern Guangdong region of China, and are designed in a variety of ways. These type of boats are one of the traditional long paddled boats that are found throughout Asia. Due to their popularity they are also used for races especially at religious festivals. For competitive events the boats are built with decorative features, like a dragon’s head and tail. 

With popularity growing year upon year it is a festival that should not be missed. Spectators come to cheer on each team in their battle to grab victory. However the fun does not stop there, as a range of bank-side entertainment lines up to make it a day to be enjoyed by everyone.

This year marks the 15th Cambridge Dragon Boat Race and is taking place on the River Cam in Fen Ditton on Saturday 7th of September (2019). 

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The May Bumps 

The Bumps were introduced in 1827 as an exciting alternative to side by side rowing races. Since side-by-side racing is not possible on our narrow river another form of racing had to take place.

The may bumps began in 1887 after separating from the lent Bumps. This event is open to all college boat clubs, ranging from the University of Cambridge, to the universities medical and veterinary schools and also Anglia Ruskin University. 

The start is signalled by a cannon with each crew being separated by a distance of about one and a half boat lengths. Once the race has begun each crew must attempt to catch up with the crew ahead of it and “bump” before the crew behind does the same with them. A crew which bumps or is bumped must pull to the side to allow other crews to continue racing. A crew which neither bumps nor is bumped before crossing the finishing post is said to have “rowed over”. Any crew which bumps another swaps places with the crew that it bumped in the following days races. A crew which rows over stays in the same position. The process is repeated over four effective days allowing the crews to move up and down the overall order of boats. The ultimate aim of the bumps is to try to finish “head of the River”. 

The event takes place in Fen Ditton and is free to watch. It is enjoyable for all ages and as you can imagine there is lots of good old fashioned rivalry between crews. You can also watch this race from The Plough in Fen Ditton a lovely beer garden conveniently backing onto the River cam!

Cardboard Boat Race 

We are including this boat race in our article with some uncertainty as to whether the 6th annual cardboard boat race will in fact be going ahead this year. Due to the race organisers busy schedules the 2019 race might in fact be dead in the water but the event organisers are looking for volunteers to help organise the race.

The first Sunday immediately after the end of the summer term the Cambridge University students are busy making cardboard boats! After a long hard year the teams put there minds to something a little less academic, but no doubt equally demanding….. Making boats out of nothing more than cardboard, tape and glue. The aim of this race is to simply complete the river course from Jesus Green to Magdalene College still afloat! With some teams putting in more effort than others and spurred on by their peers  (with maybe a little dutch courage to boot) this boat race event is a little less serious and absolutely hilarious to watch, allowing the students to blow off some steam after their year of studies. 

Free to watch and fun for all ages, join the spectators lining the banks on Jesus Green to watch the start of the Cardboard Boat race.

Annual Punt Race 

We of course had to include the annual punt race here in this article… this race takes place on the River Cam between Darwin Island and Trinity College. This event is a lot of fun and takes places again on the Sunday after exams called ‘Suicide Sunday’. This race is for the title of the ‘Champion of the Cam’. 

First established in 2008, it is now a fixture in the Cambridge sporting calendar. There are two competitions, the first to find the fastest solo punter and the second is to find the fastest team punter, with first place winners receiving prize money. Both College and town crews are encouraged to register, so it is a race that is open to all (one thing that is required is that all punts have a Cam Conservancy licence).

Is it a great event again to mark the end of the academic year. 

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Christmas Head Race

Coming away from the summer events there is a race on the River Cam that is held over the Christmas period – the Christmas Head Race. It is an annual Christmas race that takes place on a Saturday at the beginning of December, with crews racing upstream in brilliant fancy dress. It is a day full of races that are bursting with spirit and festive cheer. Organised by the City of Cambridge Rowing Club, the event sees crews race from Peter’s Post down to the Goldie Boat House in Cambridge.

This events sees thousands of people participating from eight boat rowers to single scullers. It is a great day and holds something for everyone for those competing to those spectating… Even though there is some brilliant rowing talent in this event, everyone wants to win the best fancy dress prize, it is a victory that all would love to take back to their club.

We hope you enjoyed this article about some of the boat races that are held on the River Cam every year. It truly is an amazing river for all to enjoy, from tourist to athletes alike, it holds something for everyone.   

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Posted on March 15th, 2019, by the Traditional Punting Company