Gung Haggis dragon boat team performs better than expected, coming 2nd and a close 3rd at Taiwanese Dragon Boat races.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team did really well today at the Vancouver Taiwanese Dragon Boat Races, held at Plaza of Nations with the Taiwanese Cultural Festival.

Race 4, aprox. 11am.
Lane – Team
1   Hon's Dragon Bowl   
2   Gung Haggis Fat Choy   
3   ScotiaBank Dragons   
4   Synergy Rice Rockets   
5   Flying Butts  

Ernest Wu is our team captain for these races.  Todd Wong (me) is drummer for our races, Dave Samis is steers, and
Colleen was our flag grabber.  Wendy and Alissa are doing lead stroke.  Hillary and Jane in second seat.  Cindy and Brooke in 3 seat. Rounding out the team is Stephen, Jim, Tony, Jonas, Devon, Sher, Raphael, Stuart, Joe.  Joining us for the day is Judi, Lee (from Sudden Impact Black – who paddled with Dave in Australia last year) + Karl (who is joining us from the Killarney junior team.).

Hon's is a brand new team this year, coached and
drummed by our friend Patrick Couling.  Scotiabank Dragons is a veteran team with lots of experienced paddlers.  Dan Seto paddled with Gung Haggis for 3 years, but he joined Scotiabank this year to push him self more on a competitive team that went to Comp B at the Rio Tinto Alcan dragon boat festival this year.  I know lots of other paddlers on the team such as Elias whom I paddled with in 2001 on the GM team, steers William whom I coached in 2001 for the Civil Serpents team, Connie whom I sometimes work with at the Vancouver Public Library and got to know on the strike line last fall.

For the Taiwanese dragon boat races.  You have to grab the flag before you cross the finish line.  Dragon Boat racing has its origins in  ancient China, in 299 BC, long before there were stop watches.  The early race winners were determined by which team grabbed a flag first.  On our modern day race course in Vancouver's False Creek, there is a strong current and the channel is deep, so exact placement of flags is impossible.  For the Vancouver Taiwanese Dragon Boat Races, each team must grab a flag, keep paddling, then cross the finish line, which is approximately at the second set of buoy markers.  The flag can only be grabbed by the designated flag grabber.  If the flag grabber misses the flag, the boat must stop and go back for the flag.  If a paddler grabs the flag, the team can be disqualified. 

As we approached the flag, our designated flag grabber Colleen got ready.  I called a race finish, and Colleen stood up behind the large dragon head that is a feature on these Taiwanese dragon boats.  She guided our steers to the flag by pointing with her outstretched arms.  Dave aimed the dragon boat to the flag.  Colleen is right handed, but instead of bringing the boat to the left of the flag, we were heading to the right side of the flag.  Colleen reached out her left hand and easily grabbed the flag.

Colleen is a rookie dragon boater who joined our team this spring.  She discovered our team through our website when she googled “Vancouver” and “dragon boat”. Her ethnic heritage includes some Scottish ancestry, so she was intrigued.  She was really enjoyed paddling with the team and brought her girlfriend Alissa along with her to our early spring practices in March.  One of Colleen and Alissa's favorite team activities is joining the “Gung Haggis foodie club” after practice and going to replenish carbohydrates at a local restaurant.

Our 2nd place time was about 2:43  –  We had a good start, and quickly
pulled away from Hon's Dragon Bowl beside us.   Their guest steersperson
was Bernie Proetti, who later tshared with me that he had told Hon's that if they beat Gung Haggis,
he would grab my kilt.  Alas… Bernie was actually surprised we pulled
away from them so fast. We came second in our first race at 10am, Scotiabank came first.

12:55 Barrel Race #5.

Soon after 12:55 we did our dragon boat barrel race.  The history of the dragon boat barrel race is recent going back only to 2004.  It was started by the Tacoma Dragon Boat Association on Lake Union in Seattle Washington.  These first races were attended by 6 Gung Haggis paddlers, my girlfriend Deb Martin, coach/steers Bob Brinson, myself, and paddlers Naoko, Nick and Tom

This wekend was the first time
barrel races have been done in Taiwanese boats.  Previous years the smaller teakwood dragon boats were used.  I did some race
commentary telling the spectators about the history of Taiwanese dragon
boats in Vancouver, as I was on the DBA board and race committee when
we launched the inaugural Vancouver International Taiwanese Dragon Boat
Races in 2003.

We saw some teams attempt the clover-leaf turns, based on “barrel race”
format from Western cowboy rodeos.  The idea is to go around three
buoys, in a left turn, right turn, left turn format, then return to the

These Taiwanese dragon boats are flat bottomed, so they can actually
spin on the surface of the water.  The trick is to turn the boat
around, while keeping a forward momentuum.  Some boats came in tight,
close to the buoy, which made them exit the turn wide.  My choice is to
come in wider, like a skier in slalom gates and cut the exit tighter. 
While the boat is turning, we ask the front inside paddlers to do a 45
degree stroke, along with the back outside paddlers to help facilitate
the turn.  While I felt that the turns weren't tight enough, and our
forward momentuum had pushed us into a bit of boat drift while we
turned.  But several people remarked that we had some nice tight
turns.  I was steersperson for our barrel race, while Dave Samis
steered, and Wendy was our drummer, and Hillary and Colleen did lead

Race 9, aprox. 1:55pm
Lane – Team
1   Elephant & Castle Booze Cruise
2   Flying Butts    
3   Superslim Phat Phish Racing Team
4   Gung Haggis Fat Choy
5   Elephant & Castle Booze Cruise

For our second race, at 12:55. we were second seed.  We were lined up on the dock beside Phat Phish
so we were chatting with their paddler Grace, who is a Gung Haggis alumni paddler.  I was also chatting with one of their paddlers Tori, who used to organize her own team.  As I waved to Grace, I told Tori that we have a secret hand wave with Gung Haggis alumni paddlers, and we have been secretly infiltrating Phat Phish.  Tori's curiosity was piqued.  Then Joanne, Phat Phish paddler and wife of their coach Bernie piped in and said “I paddled with Gung Haggis in the first Taiwanese races!”

“Shhhh…. ” I said, “That's secret information.”

Having friends on different dragon boat friends really adds to the social cameraderie of the dragon boat races.  Bernie, Joanne, Tori and myself have known each other since around 2000 or 2001.  I regard Patrick Couling as one of my early dragon boat mentors who I have known since 1997.  James Yu was steers on my first dragon boat team in 1997, and he first taught me to steer in '98.  James is helping out with the water crew for the race organizing and officiating.

On the water, the kibbitzing stopped as the wind made it challenging to line up the boats for the starting position.  The boats are backed into the Pier north of Science World.  The steersperson grabs a rope tether beneath a lane number.  This is supposed to give each team an aproximate but equal position at the start line.  But the wind was pushing all the teams southward.  If the steers is holding the tether, than it anchors them to the dock and the bow of the boat moves South.  The front right side paddlers have to draw to keep the boat lined up straight.  We were trying to do this, while stay ready for the race start.

“Bang!” the airhorn went off.  We took off at the start.  Phat Phish quickly took off from our right (North side), but we were about half a boat length behind
E&C on our South side.  And we gained steadily on them.  It was a tight race.  Would
we make 2nd place again? 

Stuart Mackinnon was our flag grabber, and he did an excellent job. Stuart joined the Gung Haggis team last year.  He loved dragon boating so much he was inspired to start up the Killarney Cougar Dragons, at Killarney Secondary School where he teaches.  As we approached the finish line, Stuart stood up and reached his arm out for the flag.  Dave steered our boat to the left of the flag, right into Stuart's right hand.  The team kept paddling to the finish line.

E&C prevailed to stay in second place.  They have really improved
this year, as they have been doing lots of outrigger paddling. 

 The team is performing so well, they almost don't need coaching.  Everybody is paddling hard and deep, and getting a good reach.

Our first race is 11am on Sunday….

then we do a fun race at 12 noon Race #19 NOGARD (backward) race lane 5

then we are in the finals….

2:35 Race # 24 Consolation (we won't to be here)
2:55 Race # 25 Group D Medal Final   –  We might be here…
3:15 Race # 26 Group C Medal Final   –   Most likely be here…
3:35 Race # 27 Group B Medal Final   –  We could even be here…
3:55 Race # 28 Group A Medal Final   –   Wow… in our dreams… we aspire to greatness.

You can find our tent by entering the parking lot on the West side of Plaza of Nations…

Walk down to the sea walk.  You will see different small tents by the water…. and big tents set up at Plaza of Nations

We were set up today in the trees straight ahead – south of the porta-potties.

Look for the 4' X 2' sign Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team. Red letters on white sign.

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