Punting For Pints – A British Story

Drinking for me is much more than just throwing down a couple beers or getting a quick buzz.

For centuries drinking has been a way to celebrate, mourn, release stress, compliment food, and to accompany socializing.

The latter has been my favorite.  I prefer to imbibe with friends or family.  It is not that much different then eating.  And not many people enjoy eating alone.

But one of my favorite ways to drink is one that follows a memorable experience.

I am sure most of you have heard of gondolas?  You know, the small Italian boats that run through the waters of Venice.  But have you heard of Punting?  I hadn’t, at least not until the year 2000.

It started like this…my wife’s friend Caroline from Brackley, England, visited us for a week.  I knew very little of the Old World.  It didn’t sound as exciting as France or Spain but she bugged us to visit her.  Then a light bulb flashed and I remembered how I always dreamed of watching Wimbledon live.  I decided if I went, I would go during the All Grass Tennis Tournament.

I finally made up my mind to go in June 2000.  When it came time to go, we did what we always do.  We planned.  Like a typical tourist, I purchased a DK travel book for England and marked some exciting things to see and try, Warwick Castle, The Tower Of London, Wimbledon and Punting.

All throughout England, one can find man-made canals connecting rivers and towns.  The canals were originally for commercial use and the longboats were pulled by horses. Now these canals are mainly used for recreational purposes.

What Is Punting?

Punting is the act of propelling a square-ended flat-bottomed boat with a 5 meter pole.

In major cities such as Oxford and Cambridge, punting is a favorite pastime, providing ways to experience the scenic beauties of the city.

So after an exhaustive day touring the must see spots of London, the next day we aimed for a more relaxed afternoon in Oxford.  However, we got more than we bargained for.

When I mentioned I wanted to try punting to Caroline and her mother, they thought I was nuts.  As we found our way to the punting dock, Caroline declined the role as captain so I volunteered.  I mean how hard could it be?  Below are instructions that came from Daily Info UK, The guide to punting in Oxford.

How to Punt

The first step in learning to punt is to find a reasonably quiet place in which to do it. If you try and take off straight from the mooring place on your first try, you’ll not only have less room to manoeuvre, but the captive audience at the punt-hire may proving disconcerting. Try getting a more experienced friend to punt you into midstream, and then have a go.

Stand at the back of the punt, half-facing to the side (probably the right). Hold the pole vertically against the side of the punt (doesn’t matter whether or not it’s touching), and let it drop through your hands until it touches the riverbed. Swish or experienced punters throw the pole downwards, but we’ll save that for the advanced class. Push the pole downwards and backwards, gently at first, then more forcefully towards the end of the stroke (because, as your stroke “flattens” and the pole becomes closer to horizontal, less of your energy is going into pushing down into the riverbed, and more into pushing the punt forwards). For extra speed, bend your knees into the downstroke of the pole, so that you can get more push out of each stroke.

Try to push directly backwards, lest you swerve wildly to one side of the river. Let the pole trail behind the punt, acting as a rudder to guide the punt.

What the hell was I thinking?  I figured I would just pick up on it after five minutes and we would be on our way viewing the historical city of Oxford.  Ha!

This Is What Actually happened 

Caroline sat in the front facing me and Kristin (my wife) sat in the back facing Caroline.  I was the confident punting captain. I could see a beautiful bridge about 100 yards away so my first destination was to get pass the bridge. Nope, didn’t happen. On my first push I went left. On my second push I went right. On my third push I went left and on my fourth push I went right.  See where I am going with this.  Other punters were passing us and my wife was livid (did I mention she has boating experience?).

Kristin’s biggest concern was to prevent the punt from tipping and drowning her camera and our passports.  My concern was just making in away from the dock.  I pushed and pushed and got nowhere fast.  I was exhausted and embarrassed but didn’t give up.  I tried again but this time my pole got stuck in the riverbed.

Have you ever experienced a moment where everything moves in slow motion?  These were my choices:  I could leave the pole and holler for someone to pick us up or I could go for the pole.  What do you think I did?  I reached back but I couldn’t quite get it so I grew an extra six inches and barely caught it.  The only problem was the boat kept going.  So for a split second, I was airborne and have no idea how I managed to land back on the punt and pull out the damn pole without plunging into the waterway.  The boat was severely wobbling but I finally got my balance and was safe.

Caroline was laughing so hard I thought she was going to faint but my wife was so scared she was absolutely pissed.  As for me, I was humiliated and totally beat.  We had a hundred spectators. You see, there was a pub just above us so they could see everything.

I actually managed to get ourselves back.  All I wanted to do was hide, so Caroline decided to treat me to a nice cool pint. After all, I deserved it!  I was pretty pissed at Caroline but the truth is, I was just too embarrassed and felt bad for getting us nowhere.

I remember that pint vividly. It was a Fullers London Pride, an English Pale Ale. and that day, it was the best beer I ever tasted.

I finally got past my humiliation and eventually learned to laugh at the infamous punting story myself.

If you want to hear another embarrassing travel story, check out For The Love Of Beer And Cheese. Worth A Strip Search?

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9 comments on “Punting For Pints – A British Story

  1. Pingback: Real Ale Lover Or Wanker | Crafty And The Beast

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