Alternative Summer Season 2016: Water-Jousting
If watching eight lanky men turning themselves inside-out in front of the Stewards' Enclosure at Henley isn't your idea of gripping sport, then we have a far more dangerous substitute in the first of our series of blog posts on our 'Alternative Summer Season'. Welcome to the bonkers sport of 'Water-Jousting'.
Water-Jousting (or Joutes Nautiques to the locals) is something that needs to be seen to be believed. And to do so, jump on a four-hour train from Paris to Sète in August and bear witness to one of the greatest festivals of lunacy on the planet.
Sète is normally one of the most languid of French cities and almost famous for its bohemian and quiet way of life. However, nothing stokes the fire of the locals more than men with sticks charging at each other on boats.
First held in 1666 to celebrate the construction of Sète's port, the sport gained traction and is now practiced throughout the summer in the area's largest canal, culminating in the August grand prix.
Red and blue teams (ten strong each) row large boats towards each other, while being kept in time by the banging tunes of their respective drummer and oboist, both of whom wear flat-brimmed straw hats (and why not?). Standing on the boat's platforms, known as the "tintaine" are the heroes of the day, armed with iron-tipped spears and shields.
Battles commence until one side brutally loses their jouster into the drink, who is then scooped up by smaller vessels and brought to safety. However, they still get to drown in their own humiliation as the winners are treated like local heroes. Since 1666, the winner's name is engraved on a shield in the Paul Valéry museum and widely celebrated.
The atmosphere, boosted by brass bands, grandstands, a plentiful supply of rosé and fresh oysters, makes this a seriously attractive alternative to sipping Pimms in torrential rain. Some spectators are even able to watch the action from rubber dinghies (and that is certainly frowned upon at Henley-on-Thames), so pack your REEF KNOTS swim shorts and book that train.