The next morning, the three men wake late and eat breakfast. They agree to row the boat for the day (rather than tow it using ropes). The three men debate which of them has been doing the most work, each accusing the other of shirking his duties. J. says this always seems to be the case when it comes to boating—everyone thinks that they themselves have put the most effort in.
All three men are prone to laziness, and each seems to genuinely believe that they have done the most work. Of course, they can’t all be right, and the likelihood is that they’ve all done as little work as possible. It’s not leisurely to tow the boat, and they all want to sit back, relax and let someone else do it for them.
J. jokes with the reader that he cannot “have too much work.” He says he takes great pride in work: “I take it down now and then and dust it.” He claims to worry about working too hard, but George says his worries are misplaced.
J. pretends that work is an object kept on the shelf, only meant for occasionally looking at and admiring. It’s also dusty because it’s rarely used—an admittance that he doesn’t really work all that hard (as George believes too). He wants the reader to think of him as idle, but not lazy—avoiding work out of choice, not out of inability.
J. says that whenever he sees “old riverhands”—seasoned boaters—on the water they seem to be boasting about how much work they’ve done, while reclining back in the boat and leaving the rowing to some new upstart. J. talks at length about the challenges of learning to row, which he learned at a rowing club. When George first went rowing, his friends in charge of the navigating quickly got them lost.
The old riverhands want people to know that they’ve earned their rest. Just like the three men, they claim to have worked hard, but show little evidence of doing so. The real skill on the river is convincing someone else to do the work for you, it seems.
J. talks about the difficulties of all the different types of rowing. Most difficult of all, George and J. agree, is punting. This involves standing up in the boat and moving along the river by pushing a long pole into the mud. J. remembers one instance when a punter he was watching managed to lose his boat beneath him and was left precariously hanging on to his pole above the water.
This is a particularly embarrassing episode. The punter loses complete control of what he’s doing and hangs there helpless in the air. Though people might feel in charge when they’re on the river, it doesn’t take much to show that it’s quite precarious.
J. also recalls a time when J.’s friends saw someone else struggling with punting. They thought it was J. and mocked him for doing so badly, laughing from the riverbank. They were all deeply embarrassed when the man turned around and they realized he was a stranger. Something similar happened to Harris once, when a complete stranger pushed him under water from behind, mistaking Harris for a friend of his.
Everybody seems quick to judge someone else doing something wrong, but they’d prefer to laugh at someone they know—it’s embarrassing when they realize they’ve been laughing at a stranger. Part of the friendship displayed here depends upon friends mocking one another—that’s part of the performance of leisure.
The chapter’s final anecdote is about an occasion when J. went sailing with his friend Hector. In trying to put the sail up, they got all tangled up and crashed the boat. They decided to row back, but the oars were broken, and they had to be rescued and towed.
Boating on the river rarely goes to plan. It’s not the first example of one of the men needing to be rescued (e.g. Harris in Hampton Court maze).