Today was the Dragons Abreast Corporate Regatta, at Commonwealth Place on Lake Burley Griffin. Our team, from Fernwood Canberra City, was competing in the women's division against five other teams. Most of us had managed to get along to at least one of the two training sessions so we were expecting to have a good time. The weather forecast was for a sunny day, and we had organised all the important details like lunch and pink cowboy hats. We were ready to rock.
There were 31 teams on the day, most of whom were competing in the corporate races. As well as the women's division there was a medical division. A group of school teams provided some entertainment while teams were arriving and setting themselves up. The corporate teams tended to have matching t-shirts. We'd gone for a pink theme with our pink cowboy hats giving us a uniform appearance. I wore my new Nike running top but a number of the girls had bought matching t-shirts with the pink breast cancer logo on them. The medical teams were a hoot and a number of other teams had made an effort to dress up. The radiologists were in yellow with a radiation warning symbol on their chests. Another team were wearing scrub caps, there were pink wigs and tutus and some rather flamboyant pirates.
The regatta was incredibly well organised. You could tell the Canberra Dragon Boat Association has done this many times before. There were lots of volunteers to help us. They had a system for getting teams on and off the boats quickly and safely. We literally stepped off the dock into the boat without anybody getting wet. Of course, that didn't last for long.
We headed off for our first race feeling quite confident as we'd done so well at training. Well, racing is a whole different matter, and we were quite disappointed when we finished. We came third, but it wasn't our placing that was the problem. It was the absolute shemozzle we were in, with paddles clashing and heaps of water ending up in the boat. When we weren't racing we were fine.
As for my race, I was sitting much further back in the boat than I had during training. I wasn't been able to see the stroke, so I was trying to work out when to paddle by watching the people in front of me - apparently that's fatal. There was so much going on, with the sweep yelling time, the girls up the front yelling a different time and the drum not matching anybody. I could also see the boat that started beside us well out in front. I clashed paddles with the girls in front of me and behind me. I also managed to wear quite a lot of water. When the race started it took me by surprise and it was all over really quickly.
There was some rethinking back at base camp. We had the typical footy first quarter huddle, with our sweep giving us a pep talk and telling us where we'd gone wrong. He was really encouraging but we were a disheartened group. At this stage I don't think anybody knew where we had come. We'd all been too disappointed in our performance to find out. After the team huddle, we put out the first lot of food - mainly healthy fruit and cheese and biscuits - and settled down to enjoy the atmosphere. There was so much colour and movement all around us and the day was glorious. Some reshuffling of the boat occurred to move the less experienced paddlers to the back, so I quickly took advantage of it and volunteered to go up the front. I had no idea if I was any better than they were but I knew I'd be happier up where I could see the strokes.
When we were due to go up for the second time, people were all over the place. Even though a few people mentioned that it was time to go, nobody seemed to want to move. I was on my feet, ready to go, but I realised it would be better to stay with the main group than to go off on my own. One of the volunteers came to collect us. Even when we were down at the edge of the lake there was a complete lack of focus from the team. I was fairly sure from the body language around me that we'd have another bad race. I decided that I wasn't going to let that ruin my day, so I made sure I looked around and soaked in the beauty of my surroundings.
We did have a shocking race. We started much better than the time before but we managed to completely lose it in the middle of the race and we came in last by a long way. I had a better race in my new position but I still managed to clash paddles a few times. I didn't really know what to do about it. For a few strokes I'd be perfectly in time with the stroke and the girl in front of me and then there'd be a clash. I don't know if it was me or the girl in front of me or the girl behind me, but it was awful when it happened. I'd get myself sorted out and then it would happen again. At least I wasn't quite as soaked this time.
There was a demonstration race by the real dragon boaters after this, so we stayed on the edge of the lake to watch it. We had a brief huddle with our sweep but he had to dash off for this race. I was secretly relieved as I don't think there was much he could say to encourage us after that race. It was fabulous watching those teams race. I paid particular attention to the way they moved their paddles. It looked so smooth and efficient. The team that won didn't look as though they were rushing at all. They'd just come back from winning gold at the Australasian Masters Games in Adelaide last weekend, so they were in terrific form.
Some of us enjoyed an early lunch. We'd all brought something to share and there was lots of choice. It was quite relaxing sitting there. I think people stopped worrying about how badly we were paddling and settled in to have a good time.
We were a different team when we went up for our third race. There was a little more shuffling of people. I ended up on my favourite side of the boat this time. Well, it's the side I've practised on which made it seem a lot easier to me. When we were waiting to approach the boat I looked around at the scene again and tried to absorb it. I found myself thinking of some of the advice in the Chi Running book about using the Chi of the surroundings to help you, so I concentrated on attracting the local chi to myself.
We came third in this race too but we were much closer this time. The drummer was in time with the strokes, which made a huge difference. For most of the race we were coming second but some of the girls got a little carried away towards the end of the race and lost their timing. There was so much yelling going on from behind me. It was really exciting. I think our sweep thought it was a typical rookie mistake, as he made a remark about the middle of the boat celebrating before we crossed the line. Our team captain, who was quite competitive throughout, was absolutely delighted with how well we did in that race. She was generous with her praise for the team. I don't know her very well and I hadn't really expected that from her. I was quite impressed to see it.
Immediately after our race there was a Flowers on the Water ceremony for Angels Abreast - Dragons Abreast members who have passed away. It was a lovely ceremony, incredibly heartfelt and moving. Instead of going back to base camp I stayed down at the lakeside to watch it. Someone gave me some petals to throw on the water after the ladies in the boats had completed their ceremony. They took three boats out onto the water, joined them together like a raft, then held their paddles up in the air to start a minute's silence in memory of the Angels Abreast. They then threw rose petals onto the water and came back in to a paddle guard of honour.
We then sat around while the others had lunch, gathered up our stuff, watched the final and then headed home. All in all it was a lovely way to spend the day.