The choice of a good pole is all-important. The best form of pole is that made of white pine which has been varnished and shod with an iron fork which grips the bed of the river; and to propel a punt of the size described it should measure about 14 feet long and weigh between five and six pounds.
See that it is well balanced, free from knots, and absolutely straight from end to end. Before using see that the pole is quite smooth and free from splinters, for these, as the pole is shot into the water through the hand, fling off a perfect shower of water on to the unlucky punter's sleeves and skirt, and after a few yards leave her absolutely soaked through.
If the pole is not quite smooth, it must therefore be thoroughly well sandpapered before it is used.
In order to practise punting have all the fittings taken out, with the exception of a spare punt-pole, a paddle, and a sponge-this latter to be used for baling purposes in case water is shipped in the preliminary struggles in the management of the pole.
For a first attempt wait for a calm, windless day (for even a skilled punter can do very little against a strong head wind), and, sitting on the locker, paddle the punt away from the landing-stage and down stream to the first moderately shallow reach where what is technically known as a "good punting (i.e., gravel) bottom" is to be found
-a piece of information which any waterman will be able to supply.
It is very important to acquire a good style in punting from the outset, for when once this is fixed, it is almost impossible to alter it, and for this reason if a lesson or two can be obtained from a really good amateur, or from one of the riverside punting coaches, who have been professionals in their day, so much the better. If this is impossible, however, much may be done by bearing the following rules in mind.
2. Punt on the right-hand side of the boat, at least while learning, because this enables you to get the first pull on the pole with the right hand and arm-almost always considerably the stronger in a woman-and when the art of punting on that side has been mastered, by all means practise punting from the left-hand side also, for to be able to punt from either side is often a great advantage, especially for punt racing at regattas.
3. Keep the hands quite close to each other on the pole, and never move them from their first position throughout the stroke. When turning the punt, the hands are placed a couple of feet apart, instead of within about six inches of each other.
4. Steer entirely by means of the pole on the bottom of the river. Never steer with the pole in the water behind the boat as though it were a rudder.
To pick up the pole correctly is important. Directly the after shove movement is finished, the left hand swiftly draws the pole with a throwing movement through the right hand, which catches it. The left hand then lifts it out of the water
6. Return the pole to the water with a single throw.
The rules of the river must also be kept in mind before venturing upon it:
1. Punts, skiffs, and canoes all give way to steamers and launches travelling either up or down stream, for the reason that the deep launch channel is in the middle of the river, and elsewhere they might easily run aground.
2. Skiffs and canoes give way to punts going either up or down stream, in order that they may hug the banks, where shallow punting water is usually to be found.
3. When punts meet each other, those going down stream give way to those coming up stream-that is to say, they pass them on the outside, leaving the craft coming up stream the course nearest the bank.
4. When going through a lock a punter, makes carefully for the wall, and holds the punt there to the side by means of dropping her pole into the water six inches from the outside of the punt, and then drawing it in towards the side, so that it grips the punt to the lock wall.
It is usually necessary to paddle the punt out of the lock, this being done whilst sitting on the locker.
5. Boats pass out of the lock in the following order: first launches, then skiffs, and then punts and canoes.
In order to start the punt, a stroke known as a half shove is employed. Stand as directed towards the middle of the punt, close to the right-hand edge, with the left foot from 12 to 18 inches in advance of the right one, and the weight of the body evenly balanced between the two. Now drop the iron end of the pole into the water just behind the right foot, and grasp it with both hands placed six inches apart and just above the level of the head, and as far forward as the length of the arm will allow, in the direction of the head of the punt.
The pole is now in a slanting position, and the boat will begin to move forward directly the pull of the arms upon the pole begins.
Length of reach is a great advantage in punting, and when the pole has been picked up and shot into the water a little ahead of the punter for the next stroke, she will find that by bringing her right shoulder round and raising her right heel, she considerably increases her reach on the pole, which, directly it touches bottom, should be grasped as high up as possible by the right hand, which pulls on it until it is within reach of the left hand, which now grips it just above the right one.