Bow Riding and Skipping Stones

Bow Riding and Skipping Stones

‘Once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid, on a dolphin’s back,
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
That the rude sea grew civil at her song.’

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595)

Waterfront Charters beautiful schooner Esperance is one of the V&A Waterfront’s unique leisure boats. Schooners are types of sailing boats defined by their twin masts (occasionally more) and their fore-and-aft rigging, set along the line of the keel. The main mast, which is the aftmost, or furthest back in landlubber speak, is the tallest mast and the mainsails are swung from port to starboard on booms as the schooner changes tack. There is normally a bowsprit, the protruding spar from the prow of the vessel, to which are attached the jibs sails, those beautiful triangular wings that were once used to identify distant ships: the ‘cut of the jib’ was an indication of friend or foe. To this day the expression ‘I like the cut of your jib’ is still used to indicate acceptance and approval. (And no doubt a little gratitude that you are not about to be broadsided by a three tier range of cannons or boarded by cutthroat pirates.)

The bowsprit in history was the place where the Figurehead of the ship was placed, but in these times we have a more practical use for the spar: it’s the perfect place to stand or sit as the schooner dips her bows into the swells, pushed along by a full set of sails. Invigorating doesn’t do justice to this practice: it’s addictive. There is some confusion over the derivation of the word ‘schooner’; as we have noted in previous blogs it could have been a mutation of the Dutch ‘schoen schip’, or ‘clean ship’ in reference to the schooners’ sleek lines. Another suggestion is that it descends from a Scottish dialectical word ‘skooning’ meaning to skip stones over water. Our fat reference dictionary says, rather unhelpfully ‘origin unknown’, but we are quite happy with both explanations: the clean lines of Esperance are ideal for her to skip delightfully over the Atlantic swells.

One of the most enthralling – and popular – sights we are treated to on Esperance is the sight of pods of dolphins cruising next to, under, around and in front of the hull as we silently carve through the sea with our curved bow. The antics of the dolphins are intriguing, and it’s probably not an exaggeration to say that watching them must rate very close to the apex of game watching thrills. If the gasps of delight and wonder are anything to go by, it’s certainly a treat for all our guests when the dolphins come out to play. The question is, of course, why do they do it? There is no one answer, but obviously many theories. Our considered opinion is that, from a scientific aspect, they do it for the same reason that birds fly in echelon and cyclists ride in pelotons: the movement of the hull through the sea creates a motion that helps propel them along. The less scientific theory has our approval: they do it because it’s fun.

Watching them as they tunnel their way through the water, spinning, swimming upside down, riding the wake, surfing the bow, it’s impossible not to feel the reflected joy of untrammelled movement. Observers have classed this activity as ‘bow riding’, but it is far more than that. The bow riding is more common in front of the huge vessels that plough the oceans, and is similar to the activity the dolphins display in the surf line: riding with the shape of the wave, bursting out of the surface, tail dancing and basically just glorying in the strength and flow of the water. Next to Esperance, on our Sailing in the Bay cruise, the range of playful tricks and turns is equally fascinating, and words are probably not sufficient to describe the feelings that viewing this play engenders.

At Waterfront Charters, as we emphasise continually, we love everything to do with the oceans. We work there, we play there, and we are always mindful of the fact that we are visitors, no matter how sleek and beautiful our schooner and our catamarans appear as they promotes the dolphins games. Looking after the creatures of the sea is a priority, and something we will continue to espouse, educate and promote. Join us for a cruise on Esperance – or any of our amazing vessels – and bask in the beauty that is the ocean with all its treasures, above and below the surface. And help protect and preserve these wonders of nature for future generations to love and respect in their turn.