UBC Day of the Longboat 2006 – I paddle the distance equivalent of 16 dragon boat races in one day
What a day! I am utterly fatigued… completely tired. My muscles ache. I can't walk without my legs hurting. I can't lift my drinking cup without my arm muscles complaining. And there is this big silly grin on my face.
I paddled 4 races in the largest Voyageur canoe race in North America – the UBC Day of the Longboat. Each race is 2km with a 10 person crew in a voyageur canoe. It takes place at Jericho Beach, at the Jericho Sailing Centre. A dragon boat race is normally 500m long. But sometimes we also race 250m sprints, and for special occasions there are 1000m and 2000m races.
I love Jericho Beach. The Jericho Sailing Centre is last remaining hangar from the former Jericho Army base, where flying boats would patrol rum runners in the 1920's. I remember in the mid-1960's, my father worked as a sign painter for the Army, at the base. Seeing army tanks on the base was always a highlight, when we went to pick up my father when he finished off work.
5 paddlers from the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team raced with Tacoma Dragon Boat Association, for Mixed, Mens and Womens races. It was the 3rd time we had raced with TDBA in the Day of the Longboat. Earlier this year in May, we also raced with TDBA for the False Creek Women's Regatta. Our Gung Haggis paddlers are Steven, Teresa, Joe, Ernest and myself. We are joined by honourary GHFC paddler Kristine, plus Ron, Sara and Stuart from Scaly Justice dragon boat team, as the the Canadian contingent.
We started the day soon after 7am. I set up our tents in the parking lot and brought bananas for everybody. This year we have started a tradition of hosting each other at races. The weather was sunny – not the rain that had been expected. Our friendship goes back to 2001 when we did fun mens and womens races together at a race in Seattle.
First Mixed Race. Because Tacoma doesn't have a full Mixed crew ready for the 8:10 start (due to border issues etc.), they are allowed to race at 8:30 with two other UBC teams. I am paddling lead stroke. We start off slow, in third place, but pass two boats on the way to the midpoint, where a runner jumps onto the beach to grab a baton. Unfortunately, our runner can't get out because we are beached beside the boat in front of us. We back up, our runner gets out. We push our boat out, but the 3rd place team has now pulled in front of us. On the 2nd turn, we pass the boat. We overtake the 1st place team, on the way to the final turn. We handily pull ahead and finish 1st. It is the first longboat race for Steven and Teresa. Steven has been paddling since the first dragon boat race in 1986. Teresa started paddling at the end of April with us. In her rookie year, she has now paddled 9 events. Wow! In my first 3 years of paddling, we only had the Alcan Dragon boat Race locally. We used to stop paddling after June. Now we paddle from March to October.
The wind starts to blow up. A strong Westerly…. pushing boats East. Two more of our paddlers show up, Joe and Ernest. They have arrived to paddle the Men's races with us.
First Women's Race. The women leave the start as third last in a field of nine. Because of the strong wind, on the first turn after the start, many boats get pushed past the buoy marker and have to paddle back to go around it. Our women's team paddles hard and moves up two places to finish 5th.
First Men's Race. I am paddling lead stroke. We have a slow start off the beach. We take an outside west side route to avoid the jam-up immediately ahead of us, that allows us to paddle hard. We pass a boat going to the buoy. We race Eastwards to the baton pick-up point. Coming up parallel alongside the beach, our runner jumps out to run to get the baton. What?!?! the tide is up, the beach is shorter, the water is deeper! He runs through the water. I jump out of our boat to push the nose out to the water. Our runner helps me push, we jump in and start paddling. We pass a boat on the 2nd turn. We pass another boat going to the final turn. We finish the race in 3rd place, passing about 4 boats along the way. We beach the boat nose first, Steven jumps out of the boat, and runs up the beach with the baton. He looks for the gong. He is a few feet East of the gong. People shout directions. He looks to his right, runs a few feet and hits the gong. Whew! What a moment.
Women's Final race. The Women get out to a good start in 3rd place. They hold a good solid pace. As the boat comes towards the beach at the baton point, the runner Sara jumps out. Too deep! The tied has come in. The water is deeper than it was for the first race. Sara is swimming to the beach! She runs up onto the beach, grabs the baton, jumps back in the boat huffing and puffing – grabs her paddle and starts paddling! What a trouper! The team pulls hard on their paddles. They finish in 3rd place. First place goes to False Creek Women.
Mens Final Race. It's a good competitive group of teams. False Creek Men stand beside us. TD Lightning. Synergy. Coach Clem wants us to break ahead at the start by doing fast short strokes similar to the “ups” of a dragon boat start, instead of the slower strokes we had used in the earlier races. The airhorn goes off. Clem runs from his chair to the boat, jumps into the boat, we paddle, Up! Up! Up! Quick short strokes…. trying to match the False Creek Men's team beside us. They inch up by twos, threes and fours, pulling ahead by threeboat lengths to reach the 1st turning buoy ahead of us. Another team reaches the buoy as us at the same time, but battles alongside us all the way to the midpoint. Our boats beach and our runners jump out to grab the batons. We have a slower start off the beach, but we paddle a wider entry to the buoy, cutting it closely, nipping their stern, as they swing to the outside of the course and we draw a straight line to the next buoy. We hold our pace, counting power series at all the right times, catching up to a boat, and pulling away from a boat.
We draw another good line coming into the final turn. We paddle hard and to the finish line with a boat right on our tail. Ernest our runner gets ready to jump out and run to the beach… too soon! Ernest jumps into the water – just like he did in our first men's race when we were about twenty feet away on a low shallow tide. But the water is too deep. Our boat goes past him. Clem grabs him by the life jacket and helps him up to pull him along. as we beach our boat nose first. Ernest recovers and runs through the water to the beach. The other boat beaches their boat. Their runner jumps out and rings the gong. Ernest runs up the beach and rings our gong. We finish 4th, even though our boat hit the beach 3rd. What a race!
The Mixed Final. It seems like only about 30 minutes after our last race. We are ready to race again. So far, I have paddled 3 races for 6km. – the distance equivalent of 12 dragon boat races. The most I have ever paddled in a single day before was 5. Starts and a higher stroke rate really wear you out. We are going for a longer slower stroke rate. I am tired, but feeling good. The first time I ever did a 2km longboat race was with TDBA in 2004. After my first race, I thought I might have a heart attack. My heart rate was up. My muscles felt really shaky. But I survived and did 4 races that day. I also didn't paddle much that year because I spent most of my time coaching the team.
This year, I steered all the Gung Haggis races because of a ski injury in April. But I started paddling again in July for some canoe work, and I paddled a dragon boat race + a barrel race on Labour Day for the Vancouver International Taiwanese Dragon Boat Race. Our training in September was all preparation for the longboat races. By last Sunday, we had worked our way to paddling the equivalent distances. In our last practice we paddled the equivalent of three 1.5 km race pieces spread over less than 90 minutes.
Again, I will be paddling lead stroke. We get off to a good start. It looks like we are one of the top three teams. TD Lightning is on our left. Another boat hits them on their left, they then collide with us. We get jammed up, because our left side paddlers have nowhere to stroke. We untangle, and move towards the first turning buoy, but we have now drifted East of the buoy. Darn! More work ahead. Clem steers us around the buoy. We paddle hard to get away from a boat or two.
Coming into the midpoint, lots of boats are ahead of us, beached and getting their batons. We come in behind, Sara jumps out, gets the baton. She joins me pushing the boat off the beach. We take off before some of the boats still on the beach. We paddle hard, calling a power series. We race another boat to the 2nd turning buoy, and pass them. They hold tight with us, on our tail, but we leave them behind. Another boat is up ahead to our left. Clem steers a good path with a wide entry that gives us a good line for the buoy. We cut them off. But they are still behind us.
It's been a long race, and we are getting tired. They surge coming into the final stretch. We call a power series. Voices in our boat are yelling “1-2! 1-2! 1-2!” Our boat surges and doesn't back down. We hit the beach. Tina jumps out of the boat with the baton in hand. She races up the beach and bangs the gong. Wow! What a race! We hug each other as we get out of the boat. We cheer the other teams and call out, “Good race!” We wear smiles.
We give high fives to our team members who didn't race with us, but stand along the barriers cheering us on. I walk past the medal podium where the False Creek Mixed team is receiving their little black canoe trophies. I smile at Pat Bigonzi, whom I used to coach and paddle with back from 1999 to 2001. Our paddlers walk back to our tents congratulating other paddlers, and patting each other on the back. What a race. Everybody was close in little packs. Nine boats in three or four groups – all battling it out – not willing to give an inch. Everybody paddling long and strong, deep and hard.
We take a group picture. We share our friendships between Vancouver BC paddlers and Tacoma Washington paddlers. Americans and Canadians. We vow to do it again. Tacoma invites us to come to paddle in some races there. We offer to invite them to dinner when they come back to Vancouver races. It's a good friendship. 3 of us join the final 3 Tacoma paddlers for dinner at Chianti's Restaurant for pasta, before they leave town, and our country.
Here are articles from our 2004 and 2005 races with Tacoma at the Day of the Longboat.
on Sun 02 Oct 2005 11:27 AM PDT