We absolutely loved punting along the canal in Mile End Park: such a simple and elegant joy to see east London gilde by from the comfort of a shallow wooden boat, pushing through the water by an upright pole-wielding punter. We wanted to know how these punts came to east London and what else there is to know about this way to travel on water, so we cornered David Carruthers, founder of East London Boats and asked him a few questions…
Is there a specific name for the person doing the punting? If there isn’t one, what would you call him/her?
Do you mean title or personal name? Either way there is no specific person who does the punting so I suppose they are just the chauffeur
Does the chauffeur of your chauffeur service give local info to passengers like they do in Cambridge and Oxford? Or sing, on request?(Or are those extras that need to be paid for / procured with bribes?)
They have basic knowledge of the local area and I’m sure any singing can be coaxed out of them with simple bribes.
Do you have any other plans for London’s waterways? What would you improve or change about the waterways as they currently are?
Our aim was to make the waterways more usable and fun which I feel we have achieved but we hopefully want to expand and have more stations across the capital. If I could change anything it would be the rubbish in the water which is always an eye sore. Everything else is simply character!
Did the punt or the plan come first in your business? Who were the previous owners?
The whole idea and entire business is mine. I acquired the boats from another punting station in Bath and set this up by myself.
Tell us a few interesting, little known facts about punts and punting…
Punts originated in London for transporting cargo, before steam engines were invented and took over their role. There are also such things as racing punts which are extremely narrow and I believe they still race them at Kingston on Thames. Perhaps a new sport for the 2012 Olympics?
What do you think of as you punt along?
I suppose everything and anything. I am usually hunting out new buildings and places for a boathouse. I also like to check which birds are setting up nests and where. Oh, and I always like to do a headcount of goslings and cygnets – make sure they’re doing alright.
Give us a few tips for first-time punters and do you have any specific details on the etiquette of being a punt passenger?
The number one rule of punting is: if the pole gets stuck on the bottom, let go! The biggest mistake is when people hold on and get pulled into the water. First time punters should accept they are going to zigzag for the first half hour but with a little persistence they will get the hang of it. Etiquette for passengers usually involves holding the punter’s beer and not commenting on the zigzags until they have tried it themselves.
Have you ever been sick on the Tube?
I was once collecting money for charity in a bucket as part of my university ‘rag’ week. I wasn’t feeling well but was determined to reach my target total. After getting on a particularly hot tube I was given the 3 second warning of imminent sick. I had no choice but to open the bucket and vomit on all the money. I then had to clean it out in my bath. Gross.
Tell us a secret about London…
Ocean Estate next to where I live sells the cheapest heroin in the whole of Europe. Apparently.
For punt hire and more info on punting in London, go to East London Boats.