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Olympic pentathlete Heather Fell finds herself all at sea for her latest sporting report, filed from the deck of a cruise ship
I am venturing a little further afield than Devon for this month’s piece - in fact all the way to Asia. I will use the term ‘sport’ loosely when explaining the two games I have recently been introduced to: shuffleboard and quoits.
Last month I was invited onto a cruise ship to talk about my sporting journey and experiences. It is not the most obvious place to find sports fans and so I have to admit I was a little worried as to the kind of reception I would receive. As it turned out, although the average passenger had probably retired a while ago their interest in sport and keeping fit and healthy was still high on the agenda.
Of the eight days I was onboard the cruise ship, four of those were spent at sea as we followed the coast from Hong Kong to Thailand, so I had to find activities to keep myself entertained. After a few laps of the 110 metre ‘jogging track’ I realised I needed be a little more open minded in my approach to sport and I headed to the top deck to find a surprisingly competitive environment amongst the passengers.
On the port side were two elongated wooden courts, 12 metres long and less than two metres wide with circles drawn on at either end, similar to that of a curling court. On it lay eight donut-shaped ropes, half of them red and the other half yellow. This was a court for playing deck quoits, a game that is thought to have originated in Ancient Greece. It supposedly began as a poor citizens sport. When working men could not afford a real discus they used to throw bent horse shoes. The Roman army brought it through Europe to Britain and eventually it changed from being a game challenging strength to a game testing skill and accuracy using hoops thrown onto a central peg.
The sport of quoits had official rules written in 1881 as it became increasingly popular towards the end of the 19th century. Other varieties also developed to enable an indoor game that would allow women and children to play as well as pubs to continue tournaments throughout the winter months. From this another style, known as deck quoits, formed in the 1930s in order to entertain passengers on cruise ships and it seems it is still doing so today. After many tips from the onlooking passengers - I was told it is similar to bowls although unfortunately this did not help me at all - I had mastered the game well enough to enjoy myself and most importantly to be competitive.
Across on the starboard side of the top deck there were two more similar sized courts with a triangular score zone drawn on them with the numbers one to ten. These were for playing deck shuffleboard. This game can trace its origins back some 500 years with evidence to suggest it was an upper class activity. Henry VIII was said to be a keen player himself and supposedly banned commoners from playing the game. The modern version is played with a stick, known as a tang, along with pucks - also known as biscuits - and follows a similar format to the original. The aim of the game is to slide your four biscuits along the board one at a time using the stick in an attempt to land on the highest scoring zone. It then becomes very tactical as you can also knock your opponents biscuits out of the scoring zone. As its name suggests deck shuffle board is limited to boats although the land version of the sport is played internationally and hosted its first world championships in 1981.
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Both of these games, which can be played as an individual or in teams of two, do not require a great deal of physical exertion but do require a reasonable amount of skill. As fun and competitive as shuffleboard and quoits are, if I want to carry on returning to the ‘all you can eat’ cruise buffet I think it is time I revert to a slightly more physically demanding sport.