Gung Haggis dragon boat team wins silver in A Division a Richmond Dragon Boat Race + Challeng Race

Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat comes 2nd overall at Richmond Dragon
Boat Festival + wins next year's registration as winner of the challenge

38383_523335315966_129500121_31246530_3444548_n by Toddish 
Medals for the Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team in Richmond! – photo by Deb Martin

It was a beautiful day at the UBC Rowing Centre in Richmond, just east of the Dinsmore Bridge.  The Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team arrived early and set up their tents and readied their crew.  This year there were only 12 teams entered in the Richmond race, compared to the 30 teams last year.  People kept asking what happened?  Why are there less teams?  My reply is that there are many dragon boat options for teams, with races last week in Nanaimo and Kent WA.  Next week teams will be going to Harrison.  Vernon had originally be set for July 24/25, but was canceled due to low numbers, said the organizers.  As well, last year's race grid eliminated the bottom teams that didn't qualify for finals.  Only the top 16 teams competed for medals + 2 teams for the cancer survivor challenge + 4 teams for the junior challeng.

But the Richmond event went bravely on with 12 teams.

We were warmly greeted by Fred, of the Fraser Dragons teams, who explained to us how tents were being set up on the plastic floor segments that were placed on top of the renovated dike along River Road.  With less teams, there was more room for each team.  Last year there was fresh bark mulch dirt on the top of the new dike that had been raised.  Last year there was long grass along a much lower dike.

The first set of races were head-to-head races with only two teams each.  This meant 6 races.  Teams watched each other race.  Many of the races placed strong mixed teams against all-women teams, that were noticeably slower.  It was a format that was being used to try to find a clear race grid to make  sure all the teams would be placed within their level.  Gung Haggis team raced against Richmond Survivorship.  In the line-up were cheerfully talked with the team of female cancer survivors.  We told our team to race their own race, and to get comfortable with the calls, the Millenium dragon boat, and the paddlers around them, as a few of the paddlers had not practiced with us.

Our roster was filled with many of our team's core paddlers captained by Jim Blatherwick who diligently worked out our lineups.  Tzhe and Christine were our lead strokers with Karen R. joining Jim as mid-stroke.  We also added two new paddlers such as Guillaume who is on a work visa from Belgium, and Chris who had only about 5 practices since joining us after the Rio Tinto Alcan Festival.  Experienced paddlers such as Steve and Cristina joined us from Metro Vancouver 44 Cheeks.  They had raced with our 49+ team at RTA.  Lisa and Dominic are experienced paddlers on other teams, that raced with us last year at Richmond, and join us when they can because they enjoy our team's camaraderie.  Dan first started on our team back in 2004, but joined other teams in the quest for higher competitive levels.  But he always enjoys paddling with us and had also joined us in May for the Lotus regatta in Burnaby, as does Thony, originally from the Phillipine PYROS team, but has now started a team for Phillipine paddlers in Vancouver.


Dominic enjoys paddling with Gung Haggis so much, he turned a tartan sash into a tartan head wrap! – photo courtesy of Dave Samis.

Debbie was our drummer.  Her calls were strong, as we had trained her for the RTA Festival.  Todd was our steers.  As coach for the team, he also looked to see how the team was working together and made changes and critiques where needed.

Gung Haggis Fat Choy had a good start and we quickly out paced the Richmond Survivorship before we paddled under the Dinsmore Bridge from the Finish Line.  Throughout this set of six races, we watched the other team's times to see who were the fastest that we would meet in the A Final.  Three teams had faster times than us.

The second set of races included 3 boats per heat.  Each race featured one of the winning boats from the first set of 6 races.  This helped to further sort the teams.  We raced against two teams that we handily beat.  We now put Keng on the drum seat, and Dave Samis as steersperson.

For the final race, we were joined by our “Buddy Team” Flight Centre, plus Booze Cruise, and the junior team Surgin' Sturgeons.  The river was flowing down faster in the mid-afternoon.  Booze Cruise had the outside lane, we were next.  Flight Centre on our right, closer to shore, and Surgin' Sturgeons closest to shore.  The horn sounded, and we all dug our paddles hard into the water.  Booze Cruise jumped ahead with a mighty start.  We moved into our power series, and started to leave Flight Centre behind.

Keng called some power series, as Dan called “Push” to the backs.  We dug our paddles deeper.  We reached for the front water to pull our boat up more. 

We came 2nd.  YAY!!!!  Silver medals were headed our way.  Much sweeter than the split-second lost last year when we came 4th in A Division.  But last year being in A was an unexpected treat.  This year we knew that we had to be in A – but where?

34840_523334821956_129500121_31246502_2739819_n by you.
The team races during the figure 8 Challenge
course.  Debbie Drums and Todd steers – photo courtesy of Karen

Next came the challenge race.  A course was set up, and teams had to make a left turn, then turn right around a far boy, then make a left turn on the far side, then come through the narrowly spaced buoys marking both the start and the finish.   We saw the first teams out-shoot the turns and end up making really wide turns.  We saw some teams disqualified because the turned around the wrong buoys or missed the finish gate completely.

As we climbed into the boat, I told our paddlers that Gung Haggis Fat Choy had been the first Canadian team to do dragon boat barrel races in Seattle, organized by Tacoma DBA.  It was myself and Bob Brinson who brought the concept to the Taiwanese dragon boat races, and it spread to Harrison.  I had steered those races and helped develop the concept, so some of our core members remembered those races and how we paddled to make tighter turns.

We did our start through the gates, banking left.  I steered our boat wider to enter the turn, so we would have a better angle with the river's downstream current hit us.  Debbie and I yelled turn, and our paddlers went into action, using a draw stroke to help us get around the turn.  The far buoy turn was tough.  The river pushed us down stream, and I had to turn us slightly upstream to cross the river and get around the final turn.  I made a great turn, and we raced to the finish gate with the best angle that any boat had done.  Our friends on the shore watching, later told us that the announcer had complimented our turns, as he gave us the best time, setting a record fastest time for the course.  As we docked, lots of the fellow racers and dock volunteers cheered for us.  We had the fastest time by 20 seconds.  Wow!

They called up the winners from each of the C, B and A divisions.  They called Gung Haggis Fat Choy and gave us the silver medals for A division.  They asked us to wait, as they awarded us the prize for the Challenge race too.  – Free registration for next year's Richmond dragon boat race!

Everybody on our team had a great day.  We complimented each other, as well as our friends on other teams.

37488_1453938661443_1022594627_1363636_5252888_n by Toddish 
Great team mates, friends and paddlers – lots of smiles on Gung Haggis Fat Choy dragon boat team following the A Division Final – photo Deb Martin

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