11 May 2021
Are you desperate to feel the sand between your toes? Keen to learn a sea shanty, or tie a bowline? Puzzled as to what the shipping forecast actually means?
Then this is the book for you. Stacked to the gunnels with interesting facts, practical advice and esoteric seaside lore, once you’ve read it, you’ll never feel like a landlubber again. So, dive on in to uncover the secrets of dead reckoning, the dark arts of crabbing and the charms of the morning star.
Read an extract below.
THE ART AND SCIENCE OF SKIMMING STONES
A good skimmer blames his stones. Be ruthless. If the stones on offer aren’t up to scratch, don’t bother. But what is the right kind of stone?
1. Flat and smooth
2. As round as possible. Oval will do
3. Clean – no sand, seaweed or barnacles
4. About 1 cm thick, perhaps 2 cm if you’re strong or it’s windy
5. Heavier than you might think
6. Small enough to nestle between your index finger and the crook of your thumb, resting on your middle finger
When you release the stone from your hand, it’s important that it’s close to the water. This ensures the shallow angle of first contact that is key to a good throw. You can achieve this simply by standing in the water, but then it’s hard to take a good step forwards as you throw, which is what helps you achieve distance. Good skimmers, therefore, often stay out of the water, but manage a good release height by taking a long, low stride as they throw. Either way, stand side-on to the direction you want the stone to travel.
Stand on your back foot, coil yourself up – a bit like a baseball pitcher – and then uncoil, taking a big step forward onto your front foot and throwing all in one go.
The most important part. Your forearm should be parallel to the water with the elbow leading the wrist, the wrist leading the hand, and the hand leading the index finger. You’re aiming to whip or flick your wrist and hand on release, like a forehand frisbee throw.
Make sure your index finger stays in contact with the stone for as long as possible. This achieves two things. First, it gives the stone lots of spin, stabilising it as it flies through the air. Each time the stone skims, it loses some rotational energy, so the more spin, the truer it will fly, even after lots of bounces. Second, maximum stone-finger contact means more acceleration, similar to the effect achieved by a pelota
player’s xistera (a sort of long hooked glove) or by those plastic ball-throwers that make playing fetch extra fun for dogs.
This might sound counter-intuitive, but if you try too hard, if you put all your weight into it, the results are often strangely disappointing. Holding a bit back gets you a bit more.
If the stone makes contact with the water too close to you, the angle will be too steep. The stone will either disappear or rise sharply in an impressive first hop, followed by an unimpressive plop as it sinks.
If the stone makes contact too far away, the risk is that it starts to turn over in the air, makes poor contact with the water and doesn’t skim very far, if at all. In this case, the first skip sometimes jags at a perfect right angle before plopping into the water. If this happens it’s best to nod approvingly, giving the impression that’s what you meant to do all along.
In general, you want the stone to hit the water three to four metres in front of you. This distance, combined with the height at which you release the stone, determines the angle at which it enters the water. There’s been a surprising amount of scientific – and some less scientific – research into this, and the conclusion is that 20 degrees is best.
The ideal is no wind and flat water. If there’s a breeze, skim downwind. If there’s tide or current, throw with the flow. Of the two, wind (and the accompanying wavelets) has more impact.
Just because skimming stones sounds simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Small children are rubbish at it. Don’t bother trying to teach them before the age of seven.
Having children in tow, however, needn’t diminish your skimming pleasure. Challenge them to find the perfect stone, allowing you to focus on the job in hand – skimming – while your minions scour the beach. Keep them interested by telling them how well their stones are doing. ‘Oh, I can never find any that good! Oh, that really was the best stone ever!’ When that starts to pall, fall back on the great stalwart:
who can make the biggest splash?
Inevitably, there are stone-skimming championships. Some are won by distance. Some are won by number of bounces. Much as we endorse anyone’s dedication to their craft, we fear they’re missing the point of skimming entirely.