Report from Tomorrow - Vol 33

1USD = S$1.64 (S$1 = 0.590USD)

November Dragon Boating

Yes, it's DragonBoat time again! You may remember my report about last May, when I described my adventure at the Spring DB competition. The really short summary was that in my first competitive race boat sank twice, but we still managed to finish the race. You can read about it (again) in volume 15 and volume 16.

This Fall's competition was different in many ways. First of all, the race was much smaller as there was no International team competition - it was all locals (mostly college aged adults). Secondly, this race was not held on the ocean beach where those nasty waves could sink or dump you. And lastly the race itself was much shorter -- 230 meters, compared to 700 meters this Spring.

The race this Fall was held 14-15 November on the Singapore River at Boat Quay in the very heart of the city. The significance of this is there are none of those nasty waves to sink your boat. If you're gonna sink your boat, you have to do it all by yourself. Surprisingly, this can still happen. The boats are much closer (perhaps 2-4 meters apart) and collisions do happen. This year two boats collided, dumping both of them. No, we were not involved, but got to watch from shore.

Fewer people were participating on the Canadian team this year. This meant the coach could concentrate on technique for each individual. The shorter race called for a very different strategy. The 700 meter race in May was mostly about conditioning and stamina and being able to put on a charge to gain on the others.

In November the race times were about 90-100 seconds and many races were a near photo-finish. Most everyone could keep up with their competition, so details like a good start, stroking together and power were the key. All Spring our practices focused on a slower pace, but one which everyone (men and women) could stroke with maximum power. We called this our "long stroke" mode. It's curious to watch, but a boat with a slower stroke can actually move much faster if everyone gives 100% on each stroke and everyone is together.

We practiced each Sunday on another tidal river, the Kallang, where there was always a boat towing water skiers. As the day of the race neared, our coach told us we were good enough to actually pull a skier behind us. "No way!", we cried. "Way", said the coach. (Well, actually, Nasi, who at one time was on the Singapore national team would never say it that way, but he did insist it was possible.)

So on our last practice, we arranged to try. A young woman who had been practicing that day agree and we had a go at it. Most of the effort was spent trying to figure out just how to get lined up, get the rope attached etc. We tried twice to pull her from a sitting position on the dock, but the rope would slip from her hands.

Finally, we started with her sitting in the water and, just like a boat, powered her up. It was really cool! Everyone in the boat was stroking together at maximum power, just like we'd been practicing. We shot off from a standstill and you could really feel the pull when the rope became taunt. But we did manage to get her up and keep her up. This picture was a product of muscle, not PhotoShop.

Our races at Boat Quay were a great success. We fielded three teams, one 24 person boat (men and women) and a men's and a women's 12 person boat. All three placed well enough to make it into Sunday's finals.

Sunday's events started out with a pretty unusual experience. After last May's races, the Canadian ambassador to S'pore invited us all over for a BBQ. From that contact one thing led to another and the Prime Minister of Canada, John Chretin (sort of rhymes with Gretchen), ended up in our dragon boat! He was in S'pore for a trade event and we invited him to go out with us. No, he did not compete - this was just a publicity event.

One 24-person boat with only Canadians (no hangers-on like me), took the PM and Admiral Ting, Minister of Education for S'pore, on a 10 minute ride around Boat Quay. It was quite an experience dealing with all the security, press and organization of the event. A number of people got interviewed by the Canadian press (even a short one of me).

Mr. Chretin did a very credible job as a paddler. It was clear he's spent more than a little time in a canoe. The Admiral, however, looked like a rank amateur. The RCM security (mounties) detail made it very clear, we were absolutely, under no circumstances to tip the boat. We did warn the PM that he'd likely get wet - and he did when a stupid press boat came too close and caused a wave to break over the side, soaking his fancy shoes. He took it well, though. Afterwards we all had our picture taken with the PM. So that was a bit of fun to start Sunday!

Finally, after all the folderol, the races could finally begin. We were competing in three races, but the BIG RACE against the Australians was our focus. In this race we had two 24-person boats, the Aussies had two and there was a group of young college-aged kids. We split our group into an A and B squad, as in May. I was on the A squad this time, and the B squad was filled in with people who'd had little or no practice for this race.

A year ago, the Canadians won this race for the first time ever - by a slim 0.01 second. Both teams were tense. At the start we got a terrific start and immediately fell into our "long stroke" mode. We left everyone in our wake and after 100 meters we were a boat length in front. The Aussies never came close!

The B squad boat did very well, narrowly missing second place. So the team took first and third in our most important race. We got individual medals and the team received a large trophy from which we all drank beer - in the most delightful juvenile manner.

So now you know the story when when I offer to "show you my medal" !