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Victoria Dragonboat Festival 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

This past weekend, I traveled up to the Victoria Dragonboat Festival. We headed up to Port Angeles, leaving at a  leisurely 11 AM. My friend drove, and we chatted and laughed at the comedians whose recordings we'd brought with us. We left his car in Port Angeles, bought tickets, and boarded the MV Coho for a 90 minute journey to Victoria, BC, where I was looking forward to my first international dragonboat race.

I've only been on a ferry once before, that I remember. In 2005, I think, I took a motorcycle trip up I-5 to US-101 (the same path we took today) except I took the ferry back over from some other town back, essentially, to I-5, just south of the Canadian border. This trip was pleasant, although, despite reaching 100 degrees in Portland, it was mid-60s in Port Angeles and even cooler in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

My friend and I stayed in a hostel, the HI-Victoria, in downtown Victoria.  That night we set out to see the city's waterfront, we met up with some friends, we all had a fun time hanging out in this beautiful city.

After a night of fitful sleep with the room, for some reason, stiflingly hot, it was time to stumble out of bed and head down to the festival. We got there and found that the team, Bridge City Blitz Blue, had our first race in the 10th heat.

After stretching out, we stood in the sun and watches a race come in, finish, park, then unload. We loaded and paddled out into the busy harbor. We got lined up... and then we were off.

These boats were different that the ones we use in Portland. They felt as big as the ones we normally paddle on, but without a center brace. Also, the foot bar was really close, and I was having trouble bracing myself. Still, in the first race, we posted 2:05.20, a respectable time, beat only by a sub-2:00.00 team. For reference, we were the seventh fasted team (out of roughly sixty) in the first half of the day.

After an obnoxiously long break in which we sat for three and a half hours instead of racing and I gorged myself on mixed dried fruit medley, it was time for our second race.

We marshaled down to the boats and loaded up. I found a better place for my foot to be, though the boat felt slightly different and, honestly, it could have been the same spot on a different boat. Still, we paddled out... and immediately had to pull into a cove so the MV Coho could depart with a load of passengers bound for America.

When the next race started, we felt good. Still, the top-seeded team that they placed against us shot ahead. Try as we might, and sucking down as much air as I could, we were unable to catch them. At the end of the race, we were once again second with a time of 2:04.71, beat by another sub-2:00.00 team.

Then came the open division, aka "Man Boat" (with a lady or two on board and with our ranks supplemented by an excellent fellow team).  We  got our first chance to compete for a medal that night.  After a terrible start in which the announcer said "go" immediately after we were backing up the boat on her command, we took off, powering down the coarse.  We took second, and it was good, with a time of 1:55.80. We were the second fastest boat to race all day!  That's the first time I've ever been on a boat with a sub-2:00.00 time!

That night I went for a run along the waterfront, ate dinner, and went to bed early very, very sore. I did sleep better than the previous night, since it was notably cooler in the room.

Sunday morning, after packing up and checking out of the hostel, the team gathered early. We warmed up, stretched out, and then watched two of our boats race in their respective semifinals on a chilly morning that the announcer, from Victoria, compared to a morning in Portland.

Then it was time for Bridge City Blitz Blue to show our stuff in the Diamond division (second only to the Platinun division.)  We loaded up, paddled out... And had to wait for the MV Coho to leave the harbor. We moved some more... Then had to wait aboard the boat while the little water taxis did some dance that I couldn't see. Finally, race time. We had a terrible start, this time of our own making, and 200 meters into a 500 meter race, we were reportedly in third. Then we hit our power. Our boat jumped ahead, stroke by stoke, easily overtaking the boats ahead of us to post a finish time of 2:05.84 in first place. We gave everything we had, and we secured the best spot for the finals.

Then it was time to wait, and, almost 5 hours later, it was finally time for the Diamond mixed championship, with five boats already racing for that division's consolation prize. We'd secured the best spot (lane 3 of 5) and we had the best time of any team going into the race. After waiting, again, for the MV Coho to take off, we launched. We paddled hard. In my peripheral vision, I could see the boats next to us; the race was on. We paddled as hard as we could. I was constantly checking to make sure I was in sync with the paddler ahead of me.  I put everything I had into the race, and so did my teammates. But at the end, we only came in a close 3rd with a heartbreaking time of 2:09.56. It was the bronze medal for us, and my promise to myself to buy a nicer paddle if we took home the gold didn't need to be filled.

Some folks had the attitude of "hey, at least we got the medal". Sure, it's nice. But coming in third in a race we that was ours to lose? Disappointing, to say the least. Nothing feels worse than knowing that a race is yours to lose... and losing it.

But the team rallied in the beer garden, which I'd swear was filled more with Portlanders than folks from anywhere else.  'Twas good times, as we celebrated Team Velocity (they're the women's boat from Bridge City Paddling Club) and their platinum-division championship win.

My friend and I took the ferry back that night and chatted about how much fun the whole trip was.  And, during the long drive back, my thoughts kept drifting toward the upcoming Portland race...


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