Before you start print out this page
and consult it between strokes ... like this ...
Notice punter on Cambridge end! [ Falling off the platform ]
And here is another style - The Thames punting position (below Oxford), in front of the platform, till or deck, from the cover of "Death on the Cherwell" by Mavis Doriel Hay, 1935, based on a fictionalised St Hilda's -
Thames Style, in front of the platform, from the 1935 Novel
Click for 'How to Punt'
A long and strong pole, shod with iron, employed for punting; i.e. for pushing on a boat against the stream, instead of rowing, like our punt pole:
as shown in the annexed engraving, from the very ancient mosaic pavement in the Temple of Preneste (now Palestrina)-
Virg. Æn. vi. 302. Eurip. Alcest. 262.
A Dictionary of Roman and Greek Antiquities" by Anthony Rich
Using a CONTOS
That it will give a particular relish to success, if you be successful,
and wonderfully dull the edge of disappointment, if the contrary be your fate,
(which all good spirits avert,)
if you never take punt (for we recommend that as the easiest mode of exercise)
without stowing therein a sufficient basket of ham, tongue, veal pie, stilton-cheese,
bottled ale and porter, port, sherry, moselle, claret, brandy, and cigars.
PUNTING ESSENTIALS from the 'London Magazine'. 1828
People cannot see that the easier they take it the better the punt cleaves its way.
Watch yonder heavily freighted boat. Despite the distractions of two pretty young ladies and the weight of their mamma, "dear Augustus" never loses an inch, never gets jammed into that wooden intricacy at the entrance to the "weirs", and yet seems to be doing it all for their amusement. 1853
The young gentleman who punts is an enthusiast. Eliza Cook, 1853
Good punting is not common. Eliza Cook 1853
Beware of men who offer to go in a punt with you;
such men will not help you except by their countenance, but will occupy the cushions.
Oxford Spectator, 1868
Now then, girls, work away! Nothing like taking real exercise!"
... as a pleasure boat for the Thames, the punt cannot be beaten.
Its speed may not be great, but it is still great enough for those
who are not in too much of a hurry to enjoy the river properly,
and, as an exercise, punting cannot be excelled.
W H Grenfell, Lord Desborough
When boating for pleasure, a punt possesses many advantages.
The punter faces in the direction in which the craft is travelling,
and he or she can have a good view of the scenery;
the position for punting is less cramped than that for rowing, and the stroke is more varied ...
The punt is also better adapted for luncheon and tea, which is a great convenience on a journey, and obviates the necessity of reaching an hotel at any given time.
... to the onlooker a lady punter, standing erect and propelling her craft with ease and dexterity,
is a more graceful and grateful sight than that of an equally accomplished sister labouring at the oar.
W H Grenfell
"I say, you girls, we shall be over in a second,
and if you can't swim better than you can punt,
I'm afraid I shan't be able to save both of you!"
If you don't like my story get out of the punt! James Joyce
I admit it is more fun to punt than to be punted,
and that a desire to have all the fun is nine-tenths of the law of chivalry.
Dorothy L Sayers
An elderly punter's poem - TO ISIS by ARGOL
[This is just the section of the poem relevant to punting; the rowing section is on the Oxford Rowing webpage]
How oft in summer's languorous days,
With some fair creature at the pole,
I Have thrid the Cherwell's murmurous ways
And dared with lobster mayonnaise
The onslaughts of Bacillus Coli?
Immortal youth it was that bound
Us twain together, beauteous river;
And, though these limbs just crawl around
That once would scarcely touch the ground,
And alcohol upsets my liver,
Still, in a punt or lithe canoe
I can revive my vernal heyday,
Pretend the sky's ethereal blue,
The golden kingcups' cheery hue,
Spell my, as well as Nature's, Mayday.
The evening glows, the swallow skims
Between the water and the willows;
The blackbirds pipe their evening hymns,
A punt awaits at Mr. Tims'
With generous tea and lots of pillows,
And of all girls the first, the best
To play at youth with this old fossil;
Then Isis, as we glide to rest
Upon thy shadow-dappled breast,
We'll pledge thee in a generous wassail.
And now a Chinese tribute to punting on the Cam!
Xu Zhimo, 6 November 1928 -
Taking Leave of Cambridge Again
Softly I am leaving,
Just as softly as I came;
I softly wave goodbye
To the clouds in the western sky.
The golden willows by the riverside
Are young brides in the setting sun;
Their glittering reflections on the shimmering river
Keep undulating in my heart.
The green tape grass rooted in the soft mud
Sways leisurely in the water;
I am willing to be such a waterweed
In the gentle flow of the River Cam.
That pool in the shade of elm trees
Holds not clear spring water, but a rainbow
Crumpled in the midst of duckweeds,
Where rainbow-like dreams settle.
To seek a dream? Go punting with a long pole,
Upstream to where green grass is greener,
With the punt laden with starlight,
And sing out loud in its radiance.
Yet now I cannot sing out loud,
Peace is my farewell music;
Even crickets are now silent for me,
For Cambridge this evening is silent.
Quietly I am leaving,
Just as quietly as I came;
Gently waving my sleeve,
I am not taking away a single cloud.
1881: George Leslie, "Our River"
(Complete version on this site)
Victorian Artist and Punter -
In the summer of 1871 two events happened to me of some importance, namely, I got married, and I bought a new punt. Of my wife I do not here propose to say anything, but the punt was such a beauty when new, and has been such a faithful and trustworthy friend ever since that I cannot forbear giving a slight description of her ...
The thoughts of Mrs Leslie on this are left to the imagination ...
1898: Rowing and Punting, by D H McLean and W H Grenfell, a slim volume published in the 'Suffolk Sporting Series'
1898: Badminton Library volume on Punting by P W Squire.
1982: Punts and Punting - a hardback by Robert Rivington - Oxford punter
1983: Punting - an illustrated large format booklet with excerpts from Robert Rivington's 1982 book
Punt trips around Oxford
Punting down the Cherwell and then up the Isis / Thames -
There are fourteen or so outings suggested below, including three round trips and five waterways: Isis/Thames; Cherwell; Oxford Canal; Bullstake Stream; and the Old Navigation. (see map below)
Click the links to go to the places shown on this site
|Upper Cherwell:||Islip Weir:||the upper limit for punts|
|Water Eaton:||Jacobean Manor House|
|VICTORIA ARMS:||drinks & pub grub in lovely setting|
|BARDWELL ROAD PUNT HIRE:||best for beginners|
|Parson's Pleasure:||pleasure, but no nudity & few parsons!|
|Lower Cherwell:||Mesopotamia:||between millstream and lower Cherwell|
|MAGDALEN BRIDGE PUNT HIRE:||may be crowded and fun|
|Botanical Gardens:||go either way round cricket ground island|
|Old Mouth of Cherwell:||bordering Christchurch Meadow|
|New Cut of Cherwell:||lovely|
|Isis / Thames:||Boathouses:||experienced punters only on main river.|
Keep well in to bank
Watch out for rowers and launches
|Old Mouth of Cherwell:||under bridge|
|FOLLY BRIDGE PUNT HIRE:||experienced punters only|
rowing boats and self drive launches
|HEAD OF THE RIVER:||Pub Grub|
|Osney Footbridge:||You can turn right here and punt up to Castle weir - but its really not worth it!|
|Osney Rail Bridges|
|Bullstake Stream:||to Hinksey, puntable to The Fishes at Hinksey, just, maybe - take a saw!|
|Osney Lock:||make sure your punt has a Thames licence
which the lock keeper will almost certainly check|
beware weir on left above lock
branch to Isis Lock (Oxford Canal);|
under very low rail bridges to Medley Footbridge. CIRCULAR ROUTE!
|THE PERCH PUNT HIRE:||food in Garden|
|Godstow, THE TROUT:||bypass lock then turn left|
good food by the weir pool
|Godstow Nunnery:||Rosamund the Fair|
|Duke's Cut||Duke's Cut Lock:||Link to Oxford Canal from above King's Lock|
|Oxford Canal||Wolvercote Lock:||NB You will need a lock key for these locks on the Oxford Canal -
they are easy to work.|
You should also, strictly speaking, have a British Waterways licence.
|Isis Lock:||Completing the CIRCULAR ROUTE back to the river.|
There are therefore quite a number of trips possible which I place in order of easiness and desirability:
1. Bardwell Road Hiring station on the Cherwell, to the Victoria Arms and back.
2. Bardwell Road Hiring station on the Cherwell, down to the Punt slide and back. (very short, no pub!)
3. Magdalen Bridge Hiring station to the punt slide and back (no pub!)
4. Magdalen Bridge Hiring station to the Isis(Thames) via the old (most westerly) channel, then down river and back via the new Cherwell cut.
5. Magdalen Bridge Hiring Station to the Isis(Thames) and up to the Head of the River at Folly Bridge and back.
6. Magdalen Bridge Hiring Station to the punt slide and on to the Victoria Arms and back.
7. Folly Bridge Hiring station up the Cherwell to Magdalen Bridge and on to the punt slide and back.
8. Folly Bridge Hiring Station upriver and explore the Bullstake Stream and back.
9. Folly Bridge Hiring Station upriver, Osney Lock, right at Four Rivers, right before Isis Lock and down to Castle and back.
10.Folly Bridge Hiring Station, Osney Lock to Perch and back.
11.Folly Bridge Hiring Station, Osney Lock to Trout at Godstow and back.
12.Folly Bridge Hiring Station, Osney Lock, right at Four Rivers, left before Isis Lock, very low bridges (60cm!) to Medley Footbridge and back down main river.
13.Folly Bridge Hiring Station, Osney Lock, right at Four Rivers, through Isis Lock (key needed) up Oxford canal, 2 more locks, left to above Kings Lock, Godstow Lock and back down river.
14.Folly Bridge Hiring Station to Kings Arms at Sandford and back.
All these I have done, launching my punt from Donnington Road Bridge.
1859: The Thames by Mr & Mrs Hall -
The Fishing Punt
He will rise with the lark, and all will be ready for him; the neat and clean punt
is moored close beside that pretty little summer-house of trees and climbing flowers; ...
his dinner is in the hamper that stands at the bow of the boat, ...
The boat is moored; two poles, one at either end, prevent its moving, and keep it steady; but you see how cautiously this has been done - Rosewell knows the fish are there, and that a clumsy push would be a warning to them to remove from dangerous quarters. ...
Do not hurry ... draw in your line gently, and remove him from the hook to the well - that heavy-looking space which stands out near the boat's stern, through which the water runs by holes made in the sides; ...
1866: The Ladies' Cabinet of Fashion -
I could take you round the reed-fringed banks of the Cherwell,
and show you "ye clerkes of merrie Oxenforde" disporting themselves in punts with Miss Braddon's last novel,
while the poplars whisper overhead, and the more adventurous endanger their precious lives in a canoe.
1868: The Oxford Spectator -
... And they will use, I suppose, both eight-oars and punts, rowing races in the former
and lounging lazily in the latter.
And fastening most elegant ribbons upon hats of straw, and themselves reclining on soft beds in the stern,
they will make merry, themselves and the person with the punt-pole,
drinking their cider-cup, wearing flannels, singing the popular songs,
enjoying one another's society, and not getting into debt beyond their means ...
1875: Magdalen College School Journal -
Heat 1. Four boats only turned up at the start; Underhill venturing without his partner. The turning point was a post which had to be touched, the whole course being about 220 yards. The boats started all in a heap, the first to extricate themselves being Mr. Sherwood and Carter. The latter got to the turning point first, where a good "bear fight" ensued, David and Broadbent second, Wharton and Jephson third, here Wharton's partner disappeared mysteriously overboard, Underhill lost. On the return nothing happened of note, Mr. Sherwood and Carter thus won; Wharton, who found his man swimming about, happily near the winning post, second. ...
Heat 2. Rev. C.H.Grundy and H. Higgins, 1; E.B.C.Piatt and S.Thorpe, 2; W.E.Peyton and T.Jackson, 0.
Mr. Grundy won this race with ease, though at one time greatly endangered by the depredatory incursions of Peyton and Jackson, in which the former at length lost his punt pole, and the latter retired to the water.
1881:George Leslie, "Our River"
artist, amateur naturalist, and punter, wrote his great book on the Thames/Isis: "Our River".
The book is complete on this site with links to the relevant sections.
He pre-dated the modern punting styles in that he moved up and down the punt during the shove. (Though he does mention that a new style is coming in at Oxford which he says is not very efficient but useful for manoeuvring at regattas!) His own picture of himself punting is seminal in understanding how the transition from his Victorian style to the modern Oxford style occurred. In order to give him most space to walk up and down the punt, it is stern first with his passengers leaning against the till or platform. (His pole position might mislead because he is holding the punt against the bank - but he is standing at the back. The punt moves left to right.)
George Leslie's Punt
On one occasion I took seven members of the Royal Academy, including the present President, from Maidenhead to Bray and back; but it was a very heavy load, and I once or twice contemplated the advisability of creating a few vacancies by upsetting the boat.
1903: The Underdog by F Hopkinson Smith -
Landlord Hull, of the White Hart Inn [at Sonning] - what an ideal Boniface is this same Hull, and what an ideal inn -
promised a boatman to pole the punt and look after my traps when the Henley regatta was over;
and the owner of my own craft, and of fifty other punts besides, went so far as to say that he expected a man as soon as Lord Somebody-or-Other left for the Continent,
when His Lordship's waterman would be free, adding, meaningly:
"Just at present, zur, when we do be 'avin' sich a mob lot from Lunnon, 'specially at week's-end, zur, we ain't got men enough to do our own polin'.
It's the war, zur, as has took 'em off.
Maybe for a few day, zur, ye might take a 'and yerself if ye didn't mind."
I waved the hand referred to - the forefinger part of it - in a deprecating manner. I couldn't pole the lightest and most tractable punt ten yards in a straight line to save my own or anybody else's life. ...
Poling a rudderless, keelless skiff up a crooked stream by means of a fifteen-foot balancing pole is an art only to be classed with that of rowing a gondola. Gondoliers and punters, like poets, are born, not made ... No, if I had to do the poling myself, I should rather get out and walk. ...
You perhaps think that you know the Thames. You have been at Henley, no doubt, during regatta week, when both banks were flower-beds of blossoming parasols and full-blown picture-hats, the river a stretch of silver, crowded with boats, their occupants cheering like mad.
Or you know Marlowe with its wide stream bordered with stately trees and statelier mansions,
and Oxford with its grim buildings,
and Windsor dominated by its huge pile of stone, the flag of the Empires floating from its top;
and Maidenhead with its boats and launches,
and lovely Cookham with its back water and quaint mill and quainter lock.
You have rowed down beside them all in a shell, or have had glimpses of them from the train, or sat under the awnings of the launch or regular packet and watched the procession go by. All very charming and interesting, and, if you had but forty-eight hours in which to see all England, a profitable way of spending eight of them. And yet you have only skimmed the beautiful river's surface as a swallow skims a lake.
Try a punt once.
Pole in and out of the little back waters, lying away from the river, smothered in trees;
float over the shallows dotted with pond-lilies;
creep under drooping branches swaying with the current;
stop at any one of a hundred landings, draw your boat up on the gravel, spring out and plunge into the thickets, flushing the blackbirds from their nests,
or unpack your luncheon, spread your mattress, and watch the clouds sail over your head.
Don't be in a hurry.
Keep up this idling day in and day out, up and down, over and across, for a month or more, and you will get some faint idea of how picturesque, how lovely, and how restful this rarest of all the sylvan streams of England can be.
1906: 'A Riverside Regret', Punch
When Phyllis punts, she wields the pole
With tiny hands in dainty style,
Inconsequently chatting while
We slowly move towards our goal.
When Phyllis punts, I long to lie
And idly watch her laughing face,
For seldom does such lissom grace
As hers delight a lover's eye.
BUT what with thrusting skiffs aside,
Entreating pardons by the score,
And pushing off from either shore -
I'm far too fully occupied - when Phyllis punts!
HOW TO PUNT
Punt, thrust and glide; gather, thrust and glide.
Course always curved with no sudden turns,
Pole, poised upright, thrown down, clinking on gravel,
Sucking on mud, bouncing on stone
Placing the pole to continue the natural curve
Steering in the stroke, pulling against the side,
Or pushing out above and pulling in below.
Thrusting gently then more strongly right through to the last.
Then quick tug and the pole lies free, gliding in the water.
Relax, following the curve. Gather ... thrust ... and glide.
John Eade © 2015
This is for those who are concerned simply to punt for pleasure (rather than learning a racing technique). There are people who will dogmatically tell you that they know an exact method. That may well be the case for racing. But for pleasure punting the fact is - it doesn't matter how you do it as long as it is reasonably efficient and does not soak you or your passengers. And if it can also have that certain elegance that the best punters show then why not? I have developed the method outlined here over some forty two years (250 miles last year) so it undeniably works.
WHAT IS A PUNT?
A punt is the countryman's boat. It can be seen on African
Lakes and in Far Eastern river markets. Its basic characteristic is a flat
bottom, which is what makes it very stable in flat water (and very unstable in
choppy water - but that is unlikely to be your problem) It is basically a box
afloat. On the Thames it has been used for cargo carrying since time immemorial
(and probably slightly before that.) In one of its forms it became the fishing
punt with a central flooded well with holes in the bottom so that live fish
could be kept. The Victorians developed this into the elegant pleasure craft
that is the Thames Punt (the Saloon Punt). This is traditionally 32 inches to 34 inches wide and
between 24 feet and 26 feet long (though shorter punts may be for hire). Racing
punts are 2 feet wide down to 14.5 inches and up to 35 feet long. The pole
which propels it is 16 feet long as a standard though it may be found from 13
feet to 20 feet. The Thames Punt has a TILL or BOX or DECK at one end
(sometimes the other end has a smaller version). The bottom is curved from one
end to the other, as are the sides. The ends (HUFFS) are flat (that is not
pointed). (Racing punts are defined as flat bottomed boats having the width of
the ends not less than half the width in the centre) The sides are joined
together by TREADS (cross wise planks on the bottom, placed at intervals). The
joint to the side is reinforced at each tread by a KNEE which may extend to the
top of the side. The bottom is then made up of lengthwise planks secured to the
treads. The area between each tread is often filled with a grating. There are
usually two, sometimes one or three, seats.
The area between them is the SALOON. The passengers sit on the bottom on
The old cargo and fishing punts were often "RUN". That is they were propelled by one or more punters walking towards the stern during the SHOVE and then returning towards the bows before the next stroke.
This was however not suited to the new use of the punt as a pleasure boat. So a method of propulsion from a fixed point at the stern was developed. This was known as "PRICKING" (known on the River Wye as "SHAFTING")
FIRST CATCH YOUR PUNT
Punts are to be found for hire in regrettably few places.
No visit to Oxford or Cambridge is complete without a little punting.
In Cambridge they are the way to see the backs (the backs of the colleges - but that is their best side!) and then an expedition to the Orchard at Grantchester for a cream tea is a vital part of anyone's life. (It snowed in May last time I tried it) . In Cambridge you can cheat by using a chauffeured punt - but you will miss half the fun! Cambridge hired punts are much heavier than Oxford hired punts. There may be a choice of wooden or metal poles (see below). There are at least five hire places. The Granta (the upper river above the weir) is the quietest - though first time you have to go on the Backs.
In Oxford there are five hire places, above and below Folly Bridge on the Thames (Isis), at Magdalen Bridge on the Cherwell, and at the Cherwell Boat House, Bardwell Road on the Upper Cherwell and at the Perch Inn upstream opposite Port Meadow.
The boat rollers on the Cherwell are very useable and fun.
(But Parsons' Pleasure has gone! No longer will you have to try not to look at nude dons as they try to engage you in intelligent conversation!)
The boat rollers at Iffley are no longer locked - but not as easy as the Cherwell rollers, and the stretch below Iffley Lock is the worst on the whole river for punting. Watch out for racing rowing craft - see below.
At Stratford on Avon there are punts (I think).
There may be perhaps a dozen punts to be seen at Henley Royal Regatta - though these are private and not for hire. It is a great way to see the Regatta. You are actually within feet (sometimes inches!) of the racing, safely moored the other side of a boom. [ Indeed once a coxless four hit the boom and I had to throw myself flat in the punt as an oar whistled over me ...]
Recently a fleet of chauffeured Cambridge punts have been brought to the regatta - expect to pay not just for the time on the river - but also for the transport from Cambridge and back!
Other than that there are several Punting (and Skiff) Clubs and the regattas they organise on the lower Thames. I have seen the regattas at Wargrave and Hurley with punt racing. Altogether what a come down from the days when they were the most frequent craft to be seen on the Thames!
SO WHY BOTHER?
Because a punt is the most elegant and peaceful means of
water transport known to man. It glides where other boats splash and make rude
noises. It gives you an intimate experience of the river, which is denied to
larger, faster and noisier boats. It is stable and ideal for small children, a
sort of floating play pen (tether them somehow - then all you will have to do
if you hear a splash is haul them out again!) It is ideal for lovers. It is the
best way to have a conversation. It is the ultimate in luxury on a summer's day
to lie back in a punt and watch the world go by. It is the perfect way to have
a picnic. It is almost the only way to combine capacious transport to the
picnic with the picnic site itself!
Punting, you will have the satisfaction of centuries of history behind you - unlike these flashy plastic boats that make such a noise and kick up such a fuss whilst their passengers glance occasionally at the scenery through double glazed windows! Manually propelling a boat is not only the most satisfying exercise - it also does you good, and keeps you fit.
Most people take their first strokes punting in exactly the wrong place! They start from a punt hiring station on a crowded river where they have to extricate the punt from the bank and negotiate the other punts around - whilst passengers and onlookers make helpful comments - Let somebody else do that - if all else fails, sit down and use the paddle to get away from there. Find a quiet stretch with few other boats about. Ideally there should be little current and little or no wind.
For pleasure punting (i.e. this does not apply to racing punts which use entirely different methods)
there is essentially NO DIFFERENCE between the three normal styles of OXFORD, CAMBRIDGE and THAMES.
A considerable amount of rubbish is talked about the styles. The only real difference is where the punter stands. And, except in racing punts, the punter always stands at the back!
Stand on the punt.
In Cambridge stand on the till, the decking at the stern of a punt.
In Oxford stand at the other end from the decking, on the sloping bottom of the punt about four or five feet from the end.
Below Oxford on the Thames stand on the bottom just in front of the decking.
The Oxford punting author R.T.Rivington explained as follows -
When the first pleasure punts were pricked, it was usual to punt stern first, from the open end opposite the till.
In 1898, P W Squire, secretary of the Thames Punting Club, comparing the old type of punt with the new saloon punt, wrote -
... when the lounge cushion is placed against the 'till' or covered-in end
of the punt, as in the old-fashioned style,
the craft is usually propelled stern first.
At Oxford, men continued to punt stern first after the saloon design of punt was introduced, and it is now traditional at Oxford to do so.
The saloon punt was probably more popular at first on the Lower Thames. Pleasure punts were not introduced to Cambridge until after 1900 and always have been of the saloon design only; like Thames punts outside Oxford, they were punted bow first, but not always from behind the after back-rest. Punters at Cambridge often stood on the till or deck, a position of advantage for beginners. Punting stern first is sometimes called punting from the "Oxford end" and bow first, from the "Cambridge end".
There are of course ongoing arguments about which is best.
I would add a further reason for the Oxford tradition:
There was probably a practical reason for punting stern first in that Oxford punters had at times to shoot Medley weir - and that a punt in that situation is much safer decking first.
I keep my punt on a trailer and always have to launch platform first in order to avoid scooping up water. This gave me the clue - and prints of punts shooting weirs always show that way round.
Punt shooting Hart's Weir, not unlike the former Medley Weir.
For compatibility I shall refer to the end you stand on as the back and the other end as the front.
Hold the pole trailing in the water on the side which seems most natural to you. (I learnt with a friend who punted on the right - so I punted on the other side so that we could double punt from the back, one on either side, which is a good way to learn.) Whatever you decide, stick to it, and never punt on the other side. Stand with feet slightly apart, across the centre line of the punt, facing where you are going. Do not be tempted into the beginner's error of facing backwards (even in Oxford!) Many punters, particularly in Oxford, do however face towards the pole side.
In what follows the pole hand is the hand nearest the pole side of the punt and the offside hand is the other. (So if the pole is on the right of the punt your pole hand is your right hand and the offside hand is your left hand.)
Hold the very end of the pole with the offside hand as if it were a sword in a scabbard which you are preparing to draw. The pole hand should hold the pole about 18" from the top and probably somewhere down near your hip. This is the "at ease" position. When all is well with the world and you are lazily admiring the scenery as it drifts by - assume this position. When all has gone disastrously wrong and there are problems - assume this position. It is the safe, do nothing, stable, controlled position. From it you can easily assume the position of last resort. You can sit down! Notice that the offside hand is above the pole hand. This is always the case.
Now test the balance.
(You can swim can't you? If not you should be wearing a lifejacket. Even a light hearted trip on a summer's day can suddenly become life threatening if you fall in, unless you can swim confidently with clothes on.)
The pole is a great help in keeping your balance - hold it gently but firmly. Left and right balance is in your hands - or rather in your feet. Rock the punt and then stop it rocking. Play with the balance a little so that you become confident. You can't do that so easily if you are facing to one side.
If your punt is not actually facing the way you want to go, turn it by moving the pole. Use the pole side hand as a pivot - don't move the pole hand too much! Push or pull the offside hand to move the front of the punt in the required direction. The front will move in the opposite direction to the way you move your offside hand. In other words a punt steers like any other boat with a rudder - the only difference being that the rudder in question is so long that it is not necessary for the punt to be moving at all for its orientation to be controlled by the pole. Do not take the pole out of the water whilst doing this. Ideally don't move from this position until facing exactly the required direction.
Sometimes you may find that the correction required, means that the pole has moved through too great an angle. This will probably be because you are not holding the very end of the pole. It is possible to turn most punts through 180 degrees without taking the pole out of the water. But it is so easy to forget to hold the very end of the pole and then problems arise. The best way to get out of the situation is to take a stroke. You cannot lever the pole out of the water unless you hold it nearer the centre. But if you move to that position then you must remember to let it slide out again so that you are holding the very end before trying to steer again. Otherwise you land up waving it about like an ungainly paddle, to very little effect.
DRAW THE SWORD
Now you are ready to take the stroke. Draw the sword! That is, with the offside hand, pull the pole as if it were coming out of a scabbard, sliding through your pole hand. When it has gone as far as that movement will take it, grip with your pole hand and throw the pole up into a vertical position, keeping your pole arm straight, letting it slide through your offside hand which remains above the pole hand. The end of pole should actually come out of the water but not above the side of the punt. There are other ways to do this - but this one should always work.
SPEAR THE FISH
At this moment throw the pole downwards with the pole
hand as if trying to spear a fish on the bottom. Be certain the bottom is down
there and it is unlikely to be further away than the length of your pole. (And
if it is, the pole will bob back upwards and can be nonchalantly caught - at
which point you should remark to your passenger(s) that you are now getting
this pole well trained.)
It is almost impossible to punt by lowering the pole down hand over hand. You do actually have to let it run through your hands. Your hands need to be wet for this to work. Punters always have wet hands - which can be difficult in very hot or very cold weather.
MONKEY UP A STICK?
If the punt is stationary the pole will need to be thrown slightly backwards, so that when you push there is a component moving the punt in the direction you wish to go. Pushing vertically down on a vertical pole from a stationary punt will merely waste energy. If you succeed in doing anything you will climb the pole or drive the pole down into the mud.
In pleasure punting there are three ways of steering -
STEER BETWEEN STROKES -
This is recommended to beginners as the first way to steer. After the stroke do not immediately try to recover the pole but let it trail holding it in the AT EASE position with the offside hand holding the very end and the pole hand somewhere down near your hip. To turn swing the end of the pole in the water towards the inside of the curve you wish to follow. Stop the turning before you take the next stroke otherwise you will overshoot and spoil the next stroke.
This is effective but limited - you are always going to have a rather crooked course if you rely solely on this - but it is where you start.
STEER DURING THE STROKE -
To avoid the zigzag course steer during the stroke. To turn towards the pole side simply pull the pole so that it presses against the punt during the stroke. To turn to the offside takes a little bit more thought. During the stroke push towards the pole side with the upper, offside, hand and pull in towards the punt with the lower, pole hand. This is the same movement as steering when the pole is at rest. Experiment with this as soon as you are able.
STEER BY PLACING THE POLE -
The punt will naturally go in the direction you push it. Pick the exact position on the bottom against which to push, then the punt will go in the required direction without any further correction. Push with an angle and the punt will follow a curve during the stroke (which may of course be combined with the above technique of steering during the stroke).
Aim for a straight or smoothly curved course which is not affected by whether a stroke is being taken or not. Try to imagine your punt on AUTOPILOT. Use the three techniques so that the course does not deviate from the ideal.
During the stroke, as the pole becomes less and less
vertical, so the push becomes more and more efficient. It pays therefore to
start gently (when much of your effort will simply push the pole down into the
mud) and then work harder towards the end of the stroke. The last moments
before it comes off the bottom are the best for propelling the punt - so make
the most of them. The fastest punting involves bending the knees at the end of the stroke
so as to reach down to use the maximum length of the pole.
My friend, Graham Summer, who uses a racing punt style in a very narrow punt standing centrally, says that he is careful not to bend his knees at this point because straightening them causes a bounce which spoils the run of the punt. I think this may not apply to heavier punts, but it may be something to look out for.
As the stroke ends give the pole a sharp pull.
In general remember that if you have to turn to avoid an
obstacle, it is easy enough to move the front of the punt to one side of it,
but then, if you continue to turn, the back will hit it. So having turned one way
you then need to turn the other way. A short time on the Cherwell will soon
have you wishing that everyone was aware of this simple truth.
Remember the punters' motto:
"Every action has an equal and opposite reaction"
When the pole catches in the bottom at the end of the
stroke, show it who is in charge! Give it a quick hard twist and yank it out!
This will often solve the problem.
If you can feel it happening during the stroke be gentle and end the stroke early.
If however it turns out that you are not the one in charge and the pole is caught, then you have a choice: fight it or let it go.
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO LET GO!
There are two essential lessons for a punter - the first is how to hold the pole - and the second is how (and when) to let go of it!
If you choose to fight you will have to stop the punt before you can no longer comfortably reach the pole.
If instead you skid and fall you can bruise yourself and fall in. Discretion is the better part of valour!
Once the punt has stopped and begins to drift back you will almost always find that the pole releases itself. It was the angle to which it had moved that was trapping it.
If you choose not to fight then let go! This is why you have a paddle with you (not for passengers to assist you). Use the paddle immediately. The time you wait before stopping the punt will be doubled before you can get back to the pole. You may well find that the pole releases itself when you let it go, and being still angled towards you pops up and swims gently along to catch you up.
Punch: HINTS TO BEGINNERS
In punting, a good strong pole is to be recommended to the beginner
But whatever you do don't indulge in the film cliche of the punter stuck up the
pole. By all means fall in if you want to get wet - but do not let your weight
hang on the pole, because otherwise you might break it - and that is the ultimate punting sin.
[ Of course that advice is most relevant if you have a thin wooden pole - and less so with a stronger metal pole. ]
If you do fall in it is wise to stay with the pole - which should float.
[ Metal poles should be occasionally checked for buoyancy - they sometimes leak and can fill up with water. ]
It is best to re-enter the punt over the back or front rather than the sides. In emergency do not be too anxious to do this quickly - once you are holding the punt, get your breath back, and then gently pull yourself onto the punt.
In very shallow water you may find that the pole trails on the bottom in the "at ease" position. In which case your pole is too long for the depth - but there isn't much to be done about that, so simply bring enough of the pole out of the water so that the end no longer scrapes along behind you.
In very deep water, when you find no bottom (in the stretch below Iffley in Oxford, on the very sharp meanders below St John's Lock at Lechlade, on parts of the Henley reach, and in several parts below Maidenhead) you will have to manage. Hold the pole centrally and use it like a double bladed canoe paddle, first on one side and then the other. It is a quite adequate means of propulsion and can get you out of difficulties. On the Thames there are perhaps two to three hundred yards where a nineteen foot pole cannot be used (in 126 miles Lechlade to Teddington). Of course you may well have to choose where you punt with some care.
ALUMINIUM VERSUS WOOD
All poles used to be of wood, Oxford poles have recently been entirely aluminium. And Cambridge is slowly changing.
Increasingly aluminium is becoming the usual choice.
Each has its merits and demerits:
1. Wood is nice to the touch.
2. If wood is thin enough it has a nice flexibility.
3. But thin wooden poles can break - usually whilst crossing the Henley Regatta Course with an eight bearing down on you, in my experience (twice!)
4. Thicker wooden poles are too buoyant and must be thrust down into the water rather harder than for aluminium.
5. Wood needs maintenance (sanding and varnishing) otherwise splinters become a problem.
6. Aluminium removes the continual anxiety about breaking the pole.
7. Aluminium collects much less water on its surface which means punt punter and passengers all stay drier.
8. Aluminium can sometimes feel cold.
9. Aluminium makes more noise.
10. Some older Aluminium alloys leave you with black hands.
11. It is important to find LIGHTWEIGHT aluminium poles with as small a diameter as convenient.
Ecclesiastes 10:2, New International Version:
The heart of the wise inclines to the right,
but the heart of the fool to the left.
Keep right! Actually river rules are not quite as simple
as that - unlike roads, the rules only apply when there is a danger of
collision. But in practice, unless there is good reason to do otherwise, keep
to the right hand side of the river.
If you keep to the left, the only way to avoid having to move to the right due to a collision risk, is to keep so close to the bank that no one can get any nearer to the bank! If you see somebody doing that understand what they are doing and do not insist on your "rights" - indeed insisting on your "rights" probably causes more trouble than simple careless steering!
The traditional Thames rule was up the sides and down the middle - but this has now ceased to be relevant. The only case in which it now applies is Give Way to a boat coming downstream in a narrow section or bridge
If you see someone crossing the river remember that you have no special right of way because you are following a normal course parallel to the banks. And also remember that it is wise to give a boat in that position room to accomplish what on a crowded river maybe a slightly perilous move.
When there are only punts about there are no noticeable rules. Punts are not exempt and ought to keep right when there is danger of collision - but no other punters appear to know this, so do not rely on it - stick to the ultimate rule - Avoid collisions! A head on collision between two punts moving at three miles an hour is quite sufficient to cause serious injury when you consider that a punt with passengers may weigh anything up to half a ton.
When you change direction to avoid another boat, do it deliberately, and make a significant course change, so that the other boat can see it and realise what you are doing. Ideally, from a head to head position, turn right and then left, so as to pass on a parallel course. If you are going to collide try to make it so that the side of your punt hits the side of the other punt (that is so that they are parallel - which implies they may be moving sideways at this point).
Anon, on a plaque at Cleeve Lock -
Sacred to the memory of Michael O'Day
Who died maintaining his right of way
He was right, dead right, as he sailed along
But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong
THE RULE OF THE RIVER
The rule of the river's a mystery quite,
Other craft when you're steering among,
If you starboard your helm, you ain't sure you are right.
If you port, you may prove to be wrong.
RACING ROWING CRAFT
When there are racing rowing craft about they may well be
moving up to ten times faster than you, and they are difficult to manoeuvre and
an eight is effectively 60 feet long by 20 feet wide, with fragile blade tips.
Keep out of the way and that means keep well in to the bank. In rowing reaches Keep a look out
Give way to racing craft, and to sailing craft who may have to tack across the river in front of you and then turn suddenly and have another go at you!
Wash almost always looks worse than it is. In punting the entire length of the Thames recently I took perhaps a pint of water altogether due to wash. But I was worried perhaps four or five times. Turn so as to take wash almost at right angles.
Remember Absalom! ( Killed riding through a forest when he
was caught in a tree - 'and the mule went away from under him' )
Holy Bible, 2 Samuel 18.9)
That experience of 'the mule went away from under him' translated into punting terms is one you will always remember if it happens to you - and - take my word for it - it is worth avoiding.
So beware low branches - punts can have a considerable momentum and if you misjudge the clearance you can be seriously hurt as you try to get down under them.
Thorn bushes are also a trial, they will scratch you all over and then drape you in weed whilst your passengers have avoided them by lying down and are now helpless with mirth at your fate.
If you are approaching an obstacle overhead (bridge or branch) and take a stroke such that the top of the pole catches on the obstacle whilst the bottom is secured in mud you will have no option but to let go.
On the backs at Cambridge beware of raising the pole too soon as you come out
from under a bridge. There are people who stand about on bridges just waiting
to give the top of your pole a sudden tug when you are not expecting it, making
you loose your balance and causing them much amusement as you fall in. Bless
Oxford Bridges are generally not a problem in this respect.
SOME MORE ADVANCED TECHNIQUES:
LEAVING A BANK
Sometimes you can't just punt away from a bank. In order to do so the front has to turn out which means the back must swing in - but the bank is in the way! You can try moving the bow out by swinging the pole in the water towards that side - but it does not always work. The simplest thing to do is what motor launches do. They put on full rudder towards the bank and go gently ahead so that the bows go in towards the bank and the stern swings out. They then reverse out and then go ahead. The punting version is to swing the pole (towards the bank) so that the back comes out away from the bank (The front remaining against the bank - try to restrain passengers from mistakenly "helping" by pushing the front off at this point!). Once the back is well out then swing the pole the other way and the front comes out leaving the punt parallel to the bank and several feet away from it.
A punt can generally be turned through 180 degrees in one movement of the pole. Remember to extract the pole from wherever it ends up without attempting to move it in the water. However there is a more genteel method when the punt is stationary. Start a stroke dropping the pole slightly back and to the side and then, instead of pushing, start swinging the bows and holding the stern keeping the pole on the bottom. The punt slowly turns through 180 degrees without very much further movement from you though you will be working fairly hard. The particular advantage of this is that on completion of the turn the movement can be converted into an ordinary stroke.
COMING ALONGSIDE A BANK
If there is any stream always aim to moor with the front
upstream. This is general boating practice. But punts have no brakes and a
somewhat erratic reverse gear! So how do you stop?
Approach the bank at right angles! It looks alarming and spectators are drawn irresistably to the prospect of a punter committing navigational suicide. When the front is about to run aground swing sharply upstream, controlling the swing so as to remain just a few inches off the bank. When the back reaches the bank the punt will be stationary and where you want it. So to accomplish this do not angle in towards the bank, remain well out in the river until level with where you wish to moor. Only then turn the punt through 90 degrees and aim for where you wish to moor. The judgement as to when to turn upstream is a little sensitive given that an error of a few inches will make people think you are stupid as they help you from your upside down position on top of your passengers! But once you have it right it is a highly satisfying method.
There are two things you can do when about to hit
something (well three if you count throwing the pole away and lying down with
your hands over your eyes). You can swing through 90 degrees so that your speed
in the direction of travel will be reduced to perhaps a tenth of what it was
(sideways). This is sometimes appropriate, but unless the oncoming boat does
the same you are still vulnerable to being hit on the side (which is less
strong than the ends). Your back will have swung towards the problem whilst
the front swings away.
The other is to take a reverse stroke by throwing the pole forward so that it touches the bottom at least several feet in front of you and then shoving so that the punt comes to a halt. In shallow water a heavily loaded punt can be completely stopped like this. But it is dependant on the water depth and in deep water this would not work (because the pole could not be angled sufficiently forwards). Continuing the reverse stroke will of course move you backwards - but unless you counter it the back will move sharply away from the pole, and the front towards the pole side. Perhaps you should practice punting backwards?
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The sides of a freshwater river always used to be defined facing towards the sea.
So Lechlade, Oxford, Caversham, Henley and Eton were on the left bank.
Charles Dickens's Dictionary of the Thames used that convention.
However the Environment Agency have chosen to adopt the opposite convention - the argument being that buoys from the sea going inland up rivers by international convention are correct for LEFT Port (red), and RIGHT Starboard (Green) FACING AWAY FROM THE SEA. They also refer to LEFT and RIGHT in that sense for emergency procedures (EMERGENCY RENDEZVOUS - where you meet an ambulance if you dial 999 from a boat) - and that convinced me that we could no longer hold out against this new-fangled convention. So I have gone to a great deal of trouble to reverse this site! I have also changed all the quotations to avoid confusion.
LEFT and RIGHT are now as FACING UPSTREAM
There is a useful rule to remember the jargon:
"The shortest words stick together!"
So when approaching an oncoming boat pass so your left side is nearest their left side - RED to RED (i.e. keep right)
BUOYS obey the rule (marking Red for left bank and Green for right bank (seen as going upstream)
Red buoys mark the left bank side of a channel (going upstream). Leave them on your left
Green buoys mark the right bank side of a channel (going upstream). Leave them on your right)
Going downstream remember the bank names are reversed from your point of view.
Going downstream leave Red buoys on your right and leave Green buoys on your left
BOW & STROKE SIDES
Oars persons face backwards.
So though the shortest words rule for STROKE and BOW still applies from their point of view,
BUT it doesn't for the cox (or any other normal people!)
BOW side oars are on the rower's left STROKE side oars are on the rower's RIGHT (but only when facing backwards!)
So generally Strokeside is Port and Bowside is Starboard.
But of course sometimes they even rig the boats the other way round just to confuse matters.
As a cox of a reversed rigged boat I could never decide whether, if stroke was on bow side and bow on stroke side, stroke side should be referred to as bow side and bow side as stroke side, or not ... I think philosophers will identify this as a case of universals versus nominals ... everybody else will call for the men in white coats.