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Thursday, May 8, 2008

River Rats

How to Punt in Oxford

This post is a little late in coming, and I apologize. I’ve been very busy lately, as my tutorial was moved from Saturday to Thursday, meaning I lost a couple of working days. But you don’t want to hear all the boring details about my life (well, actually, I suppose that’s debateable, since you are reading my blog), so onward to the real post.

Last Saturday, Laura invited Amy, Samantha and I to go punting. Laura’s college, Brasenose, owns several punts that the students can sign out, so it was free for us to go. For those who don’t know, punting is boating with a pole. I’ll try to explain it a little here, but I would highly recommend clicking on the link if you’re interested, since it also explains the different styles of punting (and the picture of the 'punt rollers' is from near my house).

The four of us met up at Magdalen Bridge and Laura signed out the punt. As the only experienced punter in the group, she got the rather difficult task of getting us going upstream and not swept under the bridge. It had been raining for about two days now, and though the weather today was clear and beautiful, the water was high and the current was very strong.

After getting us out of danger of being swept under the bridge and downstream, Laura explained the basics of punting to us. There are two ends to the boat, one that is open, and one that is covered. You punt standing in the back of the boat, which in Oxford is the open end (it’s the opposite way around in Cambridge). To punt, you drop the pole behind the boat ‘till it hits bottom, then use it to push the boat forward. You steer by using the pole as a rudder, to avoid such things as trees and river banks, both of which enjoy running into the boats. After you’ve adjusted your course (theoretically) away from any obstacles, you pull the pole back up using a hand-over-hand motion, and then drop it back down. Because of the strong current, we had to stay close to the river bank, which meant we spent a lot of time ducking as overhanging tree branches snatched at us. Its especially hard to punt when you’re under a tree because there’s no room to manoeuvre the pole.

Well, having giving us our lesson, Laura asked who would like to try punting next. I was the closest to the back of the boat, so I took over. It was hard work! The boats are very long, making them hard to steer, and I kept getting caught in trees and nearly turned the boat around backwards several times. As a result, I made very little forward process, and, in fact, we got stuck in the same tree 3 times, as immediately after escaping it, we floated back into it.

While I was struggling to free us from the tree, a rather strange thing occurred. All anyone knows for sure is that one instant I was in the boat, and the next, I was five feet away and in the water. The best theory we can come up to as to how this happened is that a tree branch must have knocked me off as the boat moved under it. At least I can stay I didn’t make the common mistake of holding onto a stuck pole while the boat went on without me.

However it happened, everyone was very surprised when I fell out (especially me) and we all had very different reactions. Being a Florida girl, I’ve basically grown up in the water, and consequently had managed to close my mouth as I went under. So though I was surprised and wet, I was really fine. My main concern was that one of my shoes had come off, and I wanted to swim out to it before it sunk. Laura, I thought at first, was trying to help me, because she was holding out her hand, but it turned out she was really trying to get the pole back. Sam, practical girl that she is, was searching for my camera, which, unfortunately for my dignity, she found. Amy gets extra friend points for being the only one concerned about my well-being, and, worried that I was drowning (I was splashing around a lot—its hard to swim in jeans), was attempting to launch a rescue mission without getting near the edges of the boat. In the end, thanks to (or despite of) everyone’s efforts, me, my shoe, and the pole all made it back in the boat.


I took a break from punting while I dried off a bit, and Sam and Laura took turns moving us up the stream. Sam proved to be a natural, and not only did she not fall in, but she managed to get the boat through some very tricky places.

Not long after I had fallen in, we crashed into another tree, and, caught in the current, the boat began to pivot around. Trying to prevent that, we pushed off the tree branches to move the punt forward. I was holding onto a branch when the boat suddenly began to move away from it. I realized I would have to pick one or the other, punt or tree, and tried to push off the branch back into the boat. This didn’t work, and as the punt and branch moved farther apart (and consequently, my hands and feet), I briefly entertained the idea of hanging off the branch until someone could get the boat back under me. Looking back, it was a rather foolish idea, so I shouldn’t have been overly surprised when “splash!” I flopped back into the water.

Since I was already wet and in the water, I helped turn the punt around and then clambered back in.

The rest of our trip was uneventful, and we spent a very relaxing afternoon floating down the river. We made friends with a pair of mallards by feeding them bits of oatmeal cookies. They must have liked the cookies a lot, because they stayed with us for almost our whole trip. Sam dubbed the female Lucy, so I decided the male was Edmund (we named another pair Susan and Peter). Lucy, bold as her namesake, actually joined us in the punt on more than one occasion, hoping to find the cookies at their source.
We all went punting again on Tuesday, this time successfully bringing everyone back dry. Laura has brought the Wind in the Willows, and we spent a wonderful after taking turns punting, reading out loud, and resting on the front of the boat.

So there is my very late blog post. On a side note, you can now read the daily Dilbert comic on my blog if you are so inclined. You might have seen it on the left as you scrolled down.

1 comment:

Kit said...

Emma,
These days of yours sound wonderful. the idea of punting, reading, feeding ducks is the stuff of fairy tales-at least as far as I am concerned.

I am so proud that your mom is my sister and you are my niece. Your strength and grace-or lack thereof at times, are gifts. Continue to nuture and enjoy them.

Thanks for sharing.

Aunt Kathy