Bill Unterborn, ready to throw rocks in his Scottish attire

I  was introduced to curling seven years ago, when we  lived in Westchester.  Our Au Pair from New Zealand was an avid curler, and during her stay with us, we had the opportunity to watch her play a number of times. I hope the curlers reading this will not be offended when I admit that I miss the finer points of the sport, yet I find the concept behind the game truly fascinating.

Curling is a sport that can be traced back to sixteenth century Scotland.  A curling stone dated 1511, discovered at the bottom of a drained pond in Scotland, offers the earliest record of the sport.  The early stones used for play were little more than flat-bottomed river rocks, certainly not the 42-pound polished granite stones with handles that are used at indoor clubs today.

Curling made its way to North America with Scotsmen who emigrated to Canada. The sport is a passion in Canada and has grown in popularity in the US. It was added as an official Olympic Sport in 1998.

The sheet down which rocks are thrown to reach the button of the house

Bill and Irene Unterborn of Liberty House Bed and Breakfast, who have been instrumental in bringing “Curling on the Canal” to Palmyra, describe the sport, saying “Curling is a jargon-rich winter sport in which opposing rinks (4-person teams) take turns delivering their rocks (42-pound polished granite stones) down a 144-foot long sheet (ice alley). Points are scored in each end (inning) by placing your rinks’ rocks closer to the button of the house (center of the target) than your opponent’s rocks.”

Bill took up curling in 1982 and initiated his wife into the sport in 1991 when they married. Now they, plus their 15 year old son Jeremy, enjoy participating in the Rochester Curling Club that runs its season indoors from October through early April.

Bill and Irene launched “Curling on the Canal” in 2004 after the Canal Corporation proposed to towns along the Erie Canal that they hold events to celebrate the waterway.  The obvious choice was a summer event, but recalling that their curling club had a set of “pond rocks,” (different than the stones used indoors), they decided “Curling on the Canal” would be a wonderful off-season event.  Since upstate NY weather can be fickle, the event was held four out of the last seven years.

Around 400-500 people usually sweep into Palmyra for Curling on the Canal

In a departure from the past, Curling on the Canal will take place in the late afternoon. Everyone is invited to come out from 4 to 7 p.m. to the Port of Palmyra Marina on the Erie Canal to watch demonstrations by

members of the Rochester Curling Club, and to try their hands at throwing rocks. Participants are requested to wear boots or sneakers (no ice skates) and attendees with less-sure footing may wish to don a bicycle helmet. Those who get chilled can  take a break from the icy action by warming up with hot beverages, soups, chili, and sandwiches while overlooking the games.

No alternate date is set for this event, so I have fingers crossed that this year’s winter conditions hold!

Wow…Am I really saying that?

Photos by Phyllis Ely, Courtesy of the Unterborns.