Every year in the Mediterranean port town of Sète, France, the inhabitants show off their skills at the little known sport of water jousting, or joutes nautiques. First held in 1666 to celebrate the founding of the town, it takes place every August as part of the Saint Louis Festival, six days of festivities when restaurants and bars stay open late into the night and the streets are filled with music and entertainment.
The jousting involves a combatant, armed with an iron-tipped lance and wooden shield, standing on a raised platform at the end of an 8 metre long wooden ladder. The ladder projects precariously from the stern of a colourful rowing boat which is rowed rapidly towards an opposing craft by a team of powerful rowers. Much like jousting on horseback, the objective is to knock your opponent off balance, with the result being that they fall off of their platform (called a tintaine) and into the waters of the Canal Royal.
Before the contest, the jousting teams parade through the town to a musical accompaniment of drums and oboe. During the tournament, the musicians join the jousters aboard the red and blue boats and play traditional, rousing tunes as each boat’s team of ten strong oarsmen to propel the boat forward as fast as they can. On the quayside, where spectators fill grandstands, bands play to keep up the atmosphere between the seven bouts before one team is declared the winner.