When I was in high-school, I went to quite a lot of mathematical contests and one of the benefits was me ending up with a lot of new friends. My mother was always pleased with this, saying “It is so nice that you have friends all over the country”. Being an international student, I now meet lots of people from other countries, and so she now says “Oh, it is so nice that you have friends all over the world!”.
And these friends can come in handy when you go some place new and you have no clue what’s to be seen and done there. Being lucky to have had very hard working students in my high-school class, I do have some friends in Oxford (but not due to the fact that I am now an international student). Two of them I saw on Sunday. And they gave me a good introduction to Oxford. One of the things I discovered that is pretty common is punting!
A punt is a special kind of boat. Before actually seeing one, I have been told that is a bit like a Venetian gondola just that it doesn’t look that fancy and it doesn’t have the ends in the same way. But I think the method of propelling is the same. Nevertheless it is fun. Of course, it is far more entertaining when you have someone else do the work for you, and you can just sit in there, enjoying the view and the company.
So my friend Andrei, who was the most experienced one, started punting. He did it very well and it didn’t really look like he had any kind of problems with it. At some point he asked me if I wanted to try. So I did. I will tell you the main ideas but beware: it is difficult. At least for me.
You first need enough strength to handle the pole, which I am not sure I have, but that’s something else. Second, you need to know how to move the pole. You have to put it vertically, next to the punt, and fix it into the bottom (and if it is muddy, well you might have problems my friend… it might get stuck there). Then you have to sort of push yourself into the pole and propel the punt forward, and take care that you don’t lose the pole meanwhile. Afterwards, you use it to steer which could be a pretty easy job if the pole would have been lighter (which is a bit weird though, because the pole is made so it can float… but it is pretty long). And then you go back to the start, you try your best to get the pole next to you and put it vertically. Basically, that is it. The rest is just practice!
As I already mentioned, the bottom can be a bit muddy and IF your pole gets stuck, the best idea is to leave it behind and not get dragged into the water by it. You also have a very small paddle (that doesn’t really have any effect anyway) to be able to move your punt around in case you loose your pole and you need to recover it. Luckily, we didn’t end up in that situation.
Anyhow, I still enjoyed it very much and I think you should go punting if you ever have the chance!