My first punt
“… well I have done a good deal of sailing.”
It was a weak raison d’etre, but seeing as no one else was putting forward any qualifiers I threw the experience out.
“Right then,” responded the birthday boy, “you’re in charge of the second punt.”
He poled off gracefully, while I clamored over the low wooden decking of the highly iconic Cambridge punt. We were taking the boat off a pack of Asian tourists who were eager to escape. Wet and stressed, the family father handed me the long pole with a hurried “good luck” as he tucked by me.
For several minutes, I attempted to get the boat out of the lagoon we were renting the boat from, and under the first bridge- Silver Street near Queen’s College. Try as I may, I couldn’t make the boat turn at all. I could make it move forward, that was simple. Drop the 15 foot pole into the water until it hit something and then push. We would go forward. Directly into the western piling of the stone bridge. On the shore, a number of my sociology classmates were having drinks and I believe, laughing hysterically at my struggles.
Then suddenly, the whole thing snapped into something sensical. The pole was not just for propulsion it could be used to steer the punt as well. Like a tiller on a sailboat, dragging the pole in the water gave me directional control. Those sailing experiences were useful after all. I poled forward under the bridge and we were off.
The occasion was Tom’s birthday, and as an established man of Cambridge with a Varsity blue and a undergraduate degree from the university, he knew that our unseasonably awesome weather required something special. Punting specifically. For those of you who haven’t seen punting, it’s featured in my earlier post on the look and feel of the larger city of Cambridge. It’s an incredibly iconic experience at Cambridge, as it gives secret access to the “backs” of the prestigious/old colleges like Queens, Kings, Trinity and Clare along the river Cam.
Packed into the boat with bottles of champagne, we poled up the river in the falling twilight sipping the bubbles and enjoying the view. It was amazing. With a little more time on the pole and some confidence in the craft’s handling I actually began to quite enjoy the whole punting thing. And who wouldn’t? The flow of the river reminded me that my worries about the intense academic experiences I had earlier in the day (being introduced to my course work, having it explained what courses and assignments I would need to complete, meeting and debating my classmates) were easily washed away. The labor of moving the boat took a higher importance in my mind, relieving my worry in the swirl of the Cam behind our askew punt I was desperate to direct correctly.