Sunday, 30 September 2012

Oooh! Get me!

Another lovely day on the river yesterday.  I won my third trophy - my second for punting.  This might indicate a talent for punting.  Sadly, I have to correct this foolish notion.  I still can't steer without grinding to a halt, and it generally comes down to luck who wins, ultimately whoever doesn't get caught up in the foliage.  Getting caught up is more of a problem on the bank side of the course.  The lane nearest the centre of the river is safer from the point of view of avoiding hedges and overhanging trees, but can leave you gently spiralling out of control, and out of depth for your pole.  This can be embarrassing.

I haven't really decided  which is worse, trying to reverse out of a shrub without falling in, or trying to look like you know what you are doing as you find your punt perpendicular to the bank and the top of your pole disappearing below the surface.

I shall give this weighty matter further consideration and let you know when I have finished ruminating.

I also took part in a skiff race.  It was a 600m course - not too bad I hear you think.  Sadly, to get to the start line, I had to row against the flow, weaving in and out of pleasure boats.  By the time I was at the start, I was exhausted.  Then I had to row back with great enthusiasm.  I was about two thirds of my way down the course, when I heard the finish bell ring for my competitor, which is fairly depressing, and those final strokes felt a bit dismal.

At the end of the race the pain is not yet over as you have to 'park'.  It is quite off putting manoeuvring a skiff while being scrutinised from the clubhouse by happy, alcohol imbibed visitors.  As I tried to look adept at easing my skiff into a small gap on the bank, I decided it would be easier to simply turn my blades round and row facing forwards.

A more experienced rower tried to help by indicating that I should row facing backwards while mooring, as is customary.  That would have required a rather complicated 360 spin by that point, so I pretended not to have heard.

I have now realised that you row facing away from the direction of travel so you don't get downhearted as your competitor puts more and more water between you.  It suddenly seems so sensible!

I'm off to polish my trophies now.  Carefully placed on my front windowsill so the neighbours can see them and who might be fooled into thinking I am an adept sportswoman.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Messing about on the River

Oh, I'm having a lovely summer messing about in boats.  I used to walk along river banks feeling jealous of people in boats, thinking you either had to be massively rich or sporty to take part. Since discovering the Skiff Club, I have realised that just about anyone can take part.  The good news is you don't have to wear lycra either.  The only mandatory article of clothing for regattas is a rather Victorian looking hooped (stripy to you and me) top.  That's obviously not the only article of clothing you would wear for a regatta, but you can wear any shorts or trousery things.

So, having gone from being the least sporty person in the universe, I am now winning (yes, winning) races in both punting and skiffing.  This is mainly due to the clever points system, which means that beginners only race other beginners, so there is a vague chance of winning a race once in a while.  

There is really nothing more fun than being on the river in the summer.  I am sometimes in punts, with fish jumping ahead and eels wriggling beneath, or in skiffs.  What is particularly nice is that as you potter along, people on the bank start chatting (luckily I am slow enough in both modes of travel to enable lengthy conversations that the likes of Sir Steve or Cath Copeland would generally miss out on).  I also tend to keep going up and down the same 100m stretch of river, so you can pass the same people and continue the thread.

One worry is that the punting takes place opposite a pub, where locals sit out on the river terrace to enjoy the view.  As I wobble across the Thames on my punt, I am acutely aware that the additional sport for these drinkers is the possibility of watching one of us fall in.  It is a very effective incentive to stay upright and also not to leave your pole behind.  It was very interesting in a regatta yesterday to see that the punt poles, left in the water by hurrying crews fighting for first place, looked all akimbo.  Rather like sewing needles that had fallen and become caught in fabric at an odd angle.  Someone in a motor boat has to go along after the race and pull them all out.  Crews carry spares in the punt for this eventuality.

My race was fun, my competitor couldn't steer too well either, and nudged me ever closer to the bank.  As if in slow motion, an overhanging bush came towards me and I had a flash vision of being hung over a branch like washing on a line. Luckily I ground to a halt, mid-root.  After a bit of punt position juggling, we lined up and set off again, and rather surprisingly I won.  Winning has the effect of making you believe you are close to joining the ranks of elite athletes, and making your enthusiasm for your sport start to take over your life.  This is how I find myself spending more and more time getting acquainted with the Thames. This morning I rowed nine miles.   If I did nine miles on a rowing machine I would be bored out of my mind, but being on the river was wonderful.  You have to keep alert and weave in and out of the path of other river craft.  In a single skiff, you are also much more aware of the water, and what it is doing around and under you.  You have to take constant references to your direction.  It all adds many more dimensions to the sterile experience in the gym.

Messing about in boats.  Why wouldn't you?