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July 27, 2011
Nearly 300 rowers in 14 boats took to the Neuse River this Saturday to compete in Oriental’s second annual dragon boat race. This year’s event drew a wide range of competitors, from last year’s winner, the team from Deatons Yachts, to 2 boats filled with Cherry Point Marines. Raising the competitive level a notch was a team of Raleigh dragon boaters. The mixed entries had competitors and spectators wondering… how would the varied strengths of veteran dragon boaters, novice enthusiasm and military brawn play out?
The Raleigh Dragons early in the day’s racing. At festival’s end, they walked away with the top prize and a new course record.Heartworks crew members pouring on the paddle power
The premise behind dragon boat racing is simple. Twenty paddlers, seated in pairs in a long, narrow boat, row as hard as they can over a course roughly 250 meters long. Orchestrating their strokes, so they paddle in unison, is a drummer seated on the bow. Maneuvering the vessel to and from the race course, and up the lanes the boats race on, is a steer person standing on the stern.
What makes the sport so challenging to predict is how differing combinations of crew strength, weight and experience can dictate race outcomes. While it would appear that a strong, regimented team would have a definite advantage, Saturday’s events proved otherwise. In some cases, a dragon boat filled with toned young Marines proved victorious. Other times, though, a vessel powered by older, more experienced rowers was first over the line.Puff and the Punishers: In the foreground, team Punishers, composed of Cherry Point Marines, takes on Puff. Puff carried a half male, half female crew – and won.
In addition to more boats – entries were up 5 teams from last year’s event – this year’s race played out under different weather conditions. During last year’s race, the wind blew down the course, from finish line toward staring line. That made it relatively easy for paddlers to line their boats up at the starting line.
This year, the wind blew from exactly the opposite direction – down the race course. This led to some sprightly paddle work, especially as boats lined up to compete. As the vessels approached the starting line, the wind pushed them ahead. This called for lots of paddling in reverse, along with some deft steering oar work, to keep the dragon boats from over-running their starts.Watching from the town pier. This was the perfect vantage point from which to observe paddlers responding to the starter’s orders.Practiced drummer Nol Engel keeping the beat. Nol plays regularly with the Wednesday evening Oriental drum circle. He says that the key to being a good dragon boat drummer is “having rhythm and following the first paddler in the boat.” “Staying in the boat” helps too.
During the morning, winds were relatively calm, with occasional gusts to 10 knots. By afternoon, though, they had risen into the low teens, sending a sharp chop down the race course.
The dragon boats racing in Saturday’s event are designed to carry 20 paddlers. Flat-water craft of narrow beam and low freeboard, they are suited to calm conditions. They do less well in wind and swell. As the wind increased, race organizers had to make a decision. They decided that, to increase the vessels’ buoyancy, teams would remove 4 paddlers from each boat, 2 men and 2 women. This allowed the boats to float higher in the water, thereby reducing the chance of capsize.Empty seat: the gap in front of the steer person would ordinarily be occupied by 2 paddlers.
This combination of down-wind racing and lighter loads lead to some fast times, including a new course record. In their third race of the day, the Raleigh Dragons paddled the roughly 250-meter course in 58.48 seconds. This was over 6 seconds faster than the quickest elapsed time at last year’s event.Team Heart Works drives the bow of their dragon boat, and drummer Cheryl Thompson, nearly under water. Racing against them is team Leviathans, one of the 2 Marine Corps entries.
During Saturday’s event, each team raced 3 times, twice in the morning, once after a noon break. The day’s final race pitted the first and second place teams against each other to determined festival champion and runner up. This format, unlike an elimination tournament that eliminates competitors during the course of competition, allows teams maximum participation.
In the end, it was practiced muscle, not brute strength, that carried the day. Team Raleigh Dragons, who paddle regularly together, claimed the first place oar that served as the top festival prize. The PCS Fossil Floaters finished second with team Pirates for PAWS coming in third.The Raleigh Dragons accepting their first prize trophy
Because their dragon boats contained mostly men (rather than half male, half female crew powering other competitors’ boats), the two Marine entries faced off against each other in their final race. In the end, it was the Punishers that out-stroked the Leviathans to claim the first place trophy in the “Marines Division” – a red oar adorned with a dragon motif.The Leviathans and Punishers go bow to bow in their final race. The reefed sailboat and speeding windsurfer indicate how much the wind had risen by late in the event.
Additional Oriental Dragon Boat Race Entrants
Row with the Flow
Axelson’s Well-Adjusted Warriors