Sunday, 6 May 2012
I learned the noble art of tossing oars today. All rowing boats taking part in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant are required to perform this operation as part of a mass salute to Her Majesty, so we thought we had better learn how as it sounds like a recipe for dropping oars on people's heads and starring on YouTube for the rest of recorded time.
The procedure is described in an invaluable volume called the Boy's Manual of Seamanship and Gunnery, which should be on every boy's shelf. We had to adapt the system to bring the oars inboard a little so they could be lifted out of the crutches (the boat in the picture has simple ports in the gunwale). But as long as you don't rush and everyone follows stroke it is surprisingly easy and flowing. Everyone on the foreshore was very impressed.
Tossing oars had a practical use as well - it is very handy to be able to bring the oars up when approaching a harbour wall, pontoon or the side of a warship.
Tossing oars as a salute goes back to Norman times when ships entering English harbours were expected to salute the sovereign by letting the sails fly so the ship was effectively brought to a stop. The message was 'Your Majesty, I am helpless and submit to your mercy'. It was also a very visible token of peaceful intent. Tossing oars has the same function for rowing boats, patently bringing the boat to a halt so no hostile act could be contemplated.