[CUCBC Coxes] Bumps accidents - how to reduce them?

Isabel Nimmo izzy at cucbc.org
Mon Jun 18 12:39:21 BST 2018

Dear coxes,

I hope you've all recovered from the excitements of Mays!

This message (and it's a bit long) is largely aimed at those who coxed
Lents and Mays this year. So anyone else - feel free to bail out now.
Senior college coxes - I'm in some ways most interested in the perspective
of recent novices who may not be on this mailing list. Please feel free to
pass it on. CRA coxes - if you're still reading, I'm interested in your
thoughts too if you've any bright ideas!

Since I took over the CUCBC cox briefing a couple of years back, I've tried
to alter it to look more at *why* accidents happen, rather than just urging
people not to have them. Hence all the videos of case studies we look at.
However, as events over the last two years have demonstrated, it's not been
as successful as I'd like*.

My current belief is that accidents stem from two major umbrella causes
(which in turn subdivide). Firstly, people just don't see or anticipate
things that they should. Things like the the idea of either 'tunnel vision'
or 'magic rudder' or 'poor concessions' which you've all had the dubious
pleasure of listening to me rant/grumble about already. I absolutely *DO
NOT* wish to minimise the seriousness of these, I'm very very open to
suggestions of ways to reduce those kinds of accidents and I'll be
continuously tweaking the cox briefing in response to new feedback and new
accidents. But I think part of it will rest on better coaching for coxes at
the crew level, which I can only provide to a small number of crews a term.

I suspect the second cause is fear. The fear coxes have of letting their
crew down which makes them run risks they don't think will come off, but
are somehow less worrying in the moment than winding down and stopping
their crew racing. This isn't something we talk about very much, so here's
my experience:

I remember very clearly my first bumps race. I got to the boathouse nice
and early, threw up quietly in the bathrooms, and then concealed all
evidence of that before putting on my best 'confident cox face' when my
crew rocked up. I was terrified, but with just enough experience on stage
to know that they couldn't be allowed to know that, and that I could fake
it for them. Terror came from two areas: 1) I had no idea what was going to
happen. 2) what if I let them all down, and we got bumped and it was all my
fault? (2 was not aided by the fact that I knew from previous races that
the crew behind us was quite a bit faster). So I was pretty nervous when I
experienced my first ever set of cannons. And as we raced towards the A14
bridge, the crew ahead caught a crab. We closed rapidly, I got hopeful, and
then they got it back and started to hold us again. They then caught two
simultaneous crabs on the same side, with a gap between us of slightly
under a length (oooops). I remember very clearly thinking 'I should go
round this'. I also remember thinking 'but what if they get the blades back
and start holding us again. And if only I'd gone straight for them we'd
have caught them.' Retrospectively, my brain must have been working fairly
quickly that day, because I had time for all of the above, and still to
steer to go wide of the basically stationary boat. But I remember very
*very* clearly the fear that if I did go round a boat (that wasn't *technically
*stationary, and was a racing crew, and hadn't conceded yet) then maybe we
wouldn't get the bump, and it would be my fault. And I would have failed my

Now over the last few years I've done some more bumps races, but I'm still
always afraid on the start line. We're no longer the first crew to boat, so
the throwing up has to be done at work when it proves necessary (usually
about once a year), but other than that my experience of bumps racing
hasn't changed that much. So I have huge sympathy with coxes who find the
whole thing stressful. I have loved dearly all but one of my bumps crews
(25+). I have *never* wanted to let them down. Deciding to take a
deliberately suboptimal line or wind down or hold it up is now something
I'm happy to do if I don't think I can get through a gap or otherwise avoid
another crew, and I'm fairly secure that my crew will now respect my
judgement in that. But that took time, and I am aware that not every cox
has that confidence from their crew, and not every cox gets that number of
races to develop the self-belief needed. And I'm telling this (long,
boring) story to try and underline that I think I do understand the very
real worries that go through the mind of a lot of coxes.

So my final question is this - how can we better armour coxes against the
fear of judgement or condemnation by their own crews? Actual condemnation
doesn't happen that often but the fear is, for many, very real. And
unfortunately, I'm not sure the risk of hurting other human beings is
sufficient to deter every accident**. We've always talked a bit in the
briefing about how it is other coxes who usually pay the price for cox
errors. In a more formal way, CUCBC tries to change the risk taking
calculus by giving bad race results in the form of penalty bumps to those
who run silly risks (basically, we're trying to shift 'I will let my crew
down if I don't go for it' into 'I will let my crew down if I try for a gap
I can't get through'), but I'm looking for a carrot or coaching approach to
go with that stick. Or an entirely new perspective.

I'm around Cambridge all summer, so if anyone has great ideas and wants to
chat, let me know. Otherwise, my inbox is always open. But I'm very bored
of seeing other coxes get hurt. It upsets me. And I would be extremely
interested in any suggestions of steps which can be taken to better protect
coxes next year, be that on accidents caused by inattentiveness, or
accidents caused due to fear of coxes own crews.

Have a fantastic May week, and I hope to see many of you again next year,


* Yes, I do want a 0% accident rate. No, that's probably not realistic in a
bumps race. But I'm going to keep trying.
** To be very VERY clear, I'm not saying every accident on Cam is a cause
of people seeing something and deciding to prioritise their own fears over
the safety of others. But I do think some are. And I can understand and
sympathise with that, while still condemning them from an official
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