Report from Tomorrow - Vol 16

1USD = S$1.66 (S$1 = 0.60USD)

Dragon Boat Racing, The Rest of the Story

The Canadian teams were split into two mixed (men + women) squads, A and B. All us rookies were put in the B squad so the A squad could concentrate on beating the Australians. When our race came, we got our life jackets and drug the boat into the water.

The launch was down a short slope to the water where small waves were breaking on the beach. As we were getting in, we made the mistake of not keeping absolutely all the waves out of the boat. The waves broke over the stern and by the time we got 20+ people in the boat, the engine room (stern) where I was sitting with a number of other big heavy guys, had taken on a lot of water.

Dragon boats are not very deep - maybe 18-20 inches and by this point we were sitting pretty low in the water (about 4 inches above the waterline). Two people were bailing, but we were already in peril and still had 200m to get to the starting point.

We were traveling parallel to the waves (something we had seldom practiced) and, as you might expect, we took waves regularly. It didn't take long before the boat sank beneath us. Curiously, these boats do not really sink, but will, of themselves, ride a foot or so below the surface. Now we know what the life vests are for.

We were only 30m from shore and so with frantic effort we swam the boat to shore. An 1100 pound boat filled with water is unbelievably heavy. In a frenzy of energy, we dumped the water, emptied the boat and reloaded - keeping it dry this time.

We paddled our way to the starting line and rested - as we were already pretty knackered. Eventually the race began and we were off. We were still riding low, but nothing like a few minutes earlier :-) We were nowhere near being in the lead, of course. Once in a while we took a little water, but we were paddling along concentrating on our timing.

Oops, that was a big wave. Geez, my feet are in water again. Paddle, paddle, bail ... Oops 2. Geez! Paddle bail, bail. Oh-oh, Bail, bail, paddle, bail! At the same time as our bow crossed the finish line (last place in our heat, but who was looking, we had more serious things on our mind/feet), we took another wave and got that sinking feeling again. Yup, we're floating again and this time we're not 30m from shore!

The folks up front announce we crossed the finish line and so as a matter of pride we waved off the rescue boats and swam the stern (you will recall we had practice doing this) across the finish line! When our bow crossed the finish line we were given a race time and the fact the stern crossed (above or below the water) meant that we finished the race so now we had an official time!

The rescue boats swarmed in picking up the "survivors" and hauled 20+ completely exhausted expats to shore. We had the unique distinction (possibly unique in all of dragon boating for what I know) to be the only boat to sink twice and yet still finish the race! (Sometimes you have to take pride where you can find it :-)

Later that afternoon we had another race (of beginners). This time, having learned the important part of launching the boat (lift the stern and keep the water out), we loaded the boat keeping it dry. While waiting, we decided the boat was riding too low, so a call was made for volunteers and two of us jumped ship. Of course they didn't win without me, but they didn't sink either. I think of it as the ultimate sacrifice.

The rest of Saturday was spent cheering other teams on and helping to drag other swamped boats to shore. Surprisingly, the wave action was enough to flip the smaller 12-person boats. In two separate races of woman and young college kids, 7 of the 8 boats flipped as the waves tipped the lightly loaded boats and dumped everyone in the ocean. So we took comfort that we were not the only team to have troubles that day - just the first. And second.

Saturday evening's shower was a surprise as I found little balls of tar stuck on myself. Yucko! Well, the Straits ARE home to the the second busiest harbor in the world. Yikes, how much water did I take into my mouth by accident? (shudder)

Waking on Sunday I felt like I had been run over by a truck - repeatedly. I seriously considered checking myself into the nearest hospital, but after a few hours, the muscles loosened and the pain subsided and we returned to the scene of Saturday's activities.

Today the goal of the B squad was more modest -- to finish the race on top of the water. Our race was more like I had originally expected. We loaded fewer people in the boat and launched taking little or no water. We road relatively high in the water. In the end (actually long before that), it was clear we were outclassed and finished last again. But we did keep our record intact - we finished!

"So how did the A squad do?", I hear you cry. Alas, they did not beat the Aussies this year, losing by a mere second. We took comfort in the fact the Aussies cheated, fielding a boat with only one woman when 8 were required. Taking solace with a moral victory, we collected second place in our category with promises for a different result in the fall.

Afterwards we retired to a nearby condo for the first grilled hamburgers we've had since arriving here - ambrosia from the food gods, to be sure! It was a completely exhausting weekend and the scrapes and bruises are almost healed, but all in all, a good time was had by all.