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September 23 2003
Punting on the Cam

The International Association of Biomedical Gerontology 10th Congress (IABG-10) was an extremely time-packed mentally intense 3 1/2 days, during which time Kitty never even thought of using her camera. Her descriptions of her particular experience can be read in several MoreLife Yahoo messages (#295 for example) and in 10/31/03 entry for Kitty Reflects on Morelife. Audio (MP3s) and slide files of the numerous presentations can be accessed via link to page at IABG10's website.

The only scheduled relaxation for the conference was on Tuesday, September 23, and consisted of a time honored tradition called "punting on the Cam"; "Cam" being the local nickname for the Cambridge River that runs through the University which takes its name. The conference had been held at Queens College which immediately backs on the river providing easy access for this experience.

Paul with Ben Best before puntingBen, Paul and MichaelPaul and Leonid

Kitty snapped just a few photos before we moved over to the staging area to pay attention to the necessary procedures - Paul with Ben Best (in black), Michael Price (the real tall one) and Leonid Gavrilov . We estimate only about 1/4 of all the attendees (~270) included the morning punting in their schedule.

Aubrey de Grey, organizer of the conference and punter aficionado (as we were to learn towards the end of the morning punt) is in the plaid shirt assisting "newbies" into the boats.

Into the boats_1 Into the boats_2Into the boats_3

Into the boats_2Into the boats_3

With many of the boats filled and cursory explanations given as to how to use the long poles - the "punter" standing on the flat platform at the rear - the first group headed off downstream to the left. The paddle was intended only to be used to get a boat back to a "lost" pole.

Ready to go_1Ready to go_2

The job of maneuvering these shallow craft in the traditional manner was not at all as simple as one might think. Although Kitty did not take the challenge of punting herself, she watched and listened carefully to those who did and recorded much of the morning's adventures down aways the Cambridge River - and back again. Then there was the beautiful scenery which was very much worth capturing. (To our knowledge, no destination or turning point was ever defined. Participants appeared to turn back when they'd "had enough".)

Leisurely enjoying riverSeries of bridges in distanceOne of many non-traditional boat operating methods2 of many Cambridge's very old scenic buildings

More scenic old buildingsNo, we didn't collide

Pole lostPole retreived

One of the ways a pole could be "lost" is "demonstrated" here by Paul - getting the top of it caught by one of many low overpasses.

Travel continued down river which meandered along banks with university and town buildings. The boats encountered were almost exclusively those manned by fellow conference attendees (and families).

Time to enjoy the sceneryA litle help in steering from paddleLost in timeA litle help in propulsion from paddle

A litle help in propulsion from paddle

Sometimes, like here, the excursion resembled an ancient version of "bumper cars". Despite fun-loving cries of "cheating", Paul - cheered on by the rest of us in the boat - continued his Canadian improvement of the traditional pole-only propulsion method.

As one of the last boats out, ours had a lot of catching up to do.

Just another of many historic buildingsMany found punting from back platform too challengingRiver takes a bit of a turnCanadian-improved punting helps our boat pass neighbor

Swan family ahead and to leftCareful steering to avoid swan chicks

Swans occupy the river and Paul carefully steers from the front to avoid parents and chicks.

'Pull' power propels us even faster

At this point, the right bank of the river no longer was filled with boats and Paul (and the rest of us minus the punter) made use of the beams to propel us faster downstream. The traditional method just wasn't as much fun as all the improvisations we made along the way.
Just beyond this point, we all decided that we'd gone far enough since we had the same distance for the return.

Aubrey demonstrates correct punting

By some mysterious method (?bicycling), Aubrey got himself to the turn-around point and took over punting in this boat to demonstrate the truly skilled way to perform this ancient ritual.

Personal punting demo by Aubrey

After an exchange of playfully deriding comments, Aubrey transferred himself to our craft and proceeded to demonstrate at close range the fine art of punting with his rapid-fire SE English accent Paul & Michael highly amused by Aubreyoften resulting in fits of laughter from the rest of us.

After his "mini-course", Aubrey turned over the pole to the last remaining male member occupant of the boat who had not already experienced punting first-hand. Kitty just enjoyed the fun when several of the boats found themselves in the same location.

Mid-river 'meeting'Kitty joins in on joke of 'river congregation'

Aubrey provides commentary on riverAubrey insperses commentary w/ punting instruction

Aubrey spent most of the remainder of the trip providing us with colorful commentary on the area, particularly the various Queens College buildings. He broke off occassionally with punting method instructions.

Last crew punting noviceAubrey takes over for 'landing' of craft

The last novice punter actually did quite well, but was very pleased to be relieved of the "duty" by Aubrey who manuevered the boat into the dock area, bringing this adventure to a close.
Stay "tuned" for the second part, upstream and longer.


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