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FENCING WITH
QUEEN VICTORIA

By

Richard H. Wagner
(Originally published on Inside Cruise)
  The scene: A grand Victorian ball room.  Outside the large picture
windows, Elisnore Castle looms in the distance.  Beneath the crystal
chandeliers on the polished wood dance floor, two lines of white clad
swordsmen confront each other and prepare to do battle.  Is this part of
some swashbuckling epic starring Errol Flynn or Johnny Depp?  No, it is
just a sea day during a Baltic cruise on Cunard’s Queen Victoria.

 At one time, the sports facilities on passenger ships were essentially
limited to shuffleboard and quoits.  However, in recent years the various
cruise lines have raced to put more and more different kinds of sports
facilities on their ships - - everything from such familiar staples as gyms,
jogging tracks and basketball courts to rock climbing walls and boxing
rings.  Cunard, in keeping with the atmosphere of sophistication and
elegance that it seeks to create on its ships, has opted for fencing lessons
on Queen Victoria.  “You can’t do it on any other ship.  Even within the
Cunard fleet, Queen Victoria is the only ship at sea that has fencing,”
points out Kennedy Borthwick, Sports Director on the new 90,000 ton
Cunarder.

 To the surprise of some passengers, the classes on Queen Victoria are
actual beginner fencing lessons, using real metal swords and supervised
by instructors qualified by the British Fencing Association, the governing
body for the Olympic sport of fencing in Britain.  The equipment is made
by Leon Paul, which has made fencing equipment not only for the BBC
and for the James Bond films but for Olympic athletes.

The classes are not held in the ship’s gym but rather in the Queens Room,
a two-deck high public room which features the largest wooden dance
floor afloat.  “It is a beautiful room, designed on Queen Victoria’s
holiday home on the Isle of Wight.  [The pillars and walls are decorated]
to look like marble because that was the style of the time.  This is a
Victorian style room.  In the Victorian times, they were doing foil fencing
so [the classes, which focus on foil fencing, are] quite in keeping with
the atmosphere.”

“The Queens Room is actually the perfect spot for us to do it.  It is a nice
open space on the ship.  It is quiet, you are not going to get people
walking onto the dance floor.  But, you have the balcony as well where
people can watch.  One of the reasons I use a microphone is so they can
understand what is going on.”  

 Do not let the elegant surroundings lull you into thinking this is not a
real sport.  As one quickly learns, fencing is strenuous.  “It is a great way
to keep fit. You are taking small steps all the time so it is exercising your
leg muscles.  It is good for your posture and it is a good mental workout
as well.  [Also] fencing is a good social sport - - it is a great way to
meet new friends.”  

  In order to provide more individualized instruction, classes are limited
to 12 passengers.  They attract both men and women of a variety of ages
and sizes.  As in judo, a big person does not necessarily have the
advantage.  “If your opponent is making a lunge, all you have to do is
make a small parry-riposte and you are using your opponent’s strength
against him.”

 The course of instruction consists of two classes.  In order to ensure
that the participants have the proper foundation, passengers cannot take
the second class without taking the first.  To this end, the time and date of
the first lesson appears in the Daily Program but the second lesson is by
invitation.

 In the first class, the passengers begin by learning about the equipment -
- the mask, padding, glove and the foil.  Then, they are taught the
necessary footwork including the initial stance, how to move forward
and back, and how to lunge.  Towards the end of the class, a few minutes
are given over to competitions.

 The second lesson teaches how to parry a lunge, how to follow a parry
with an attack (a riposte), and how to counter a riposte.  After that, the
passengers pair-up and test their new found skills

 It is somewhat daunting at first to have someone approach you with a
drawn sword even one that has a protective button on the end.  However,
one quickly becomes comfortable with it.  According to the British
Fencing Association: “Fencing is one of the safest of sports and,
provided the correct equipment is used, even minor injuries are
uncommon. NOTE: Fencing should never be tried unless supervised by a
qualified teacher and the correct clothing is worn and the correct
equipment is used.”  Nonetheless, passengers must sign a legal release
before beginning the course.

 The competitions during the classes I attended were both vigorous and
enthusiastic.  I run regularly but the quick, stop and start, short steps and
the necessary arm movements were a much more intense workout that left
my pulse racing.   At the end of the 40 minute classes, everyone seemed
exhausted but exhilarated.  “They do enjoy doing it,” commented
Borthwich.
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Cruise article - Cunard Line - Queen Victoria - "Fencing With Queen Victoria"
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