GLOUCESTER DRAGONBOAT REGATTA 2017 - View from the Davey Law Dragonboat

May 2017

Keen for redemption after our performance at the 2016 regatta, our captain tentatively entered a team for this year’s event at Gloucester Docks on 7th May 2017.  The race in 2016 had by no means been a disaster, but the firm was anxious to prove it could do better.

Dragonboat day dawned with a fair amount of sunshine.  Our team of 16 paddlers, one drummer and their enthusiastic supporters all arrived in good time.  Smiles dimmed slightly when we discovered that our first race wasn’t until 11 am, so we could have had a little longer in bed, but no matter.  It gave the captain time to make last minute adjustments to the seating plan, though unfortunately it also gave her husband time to make “helpful suggestions” as to how it would be a good idea to put all the men at the back, as they would lift up the prow of the boat and we would tear through the water as if we had an outboard motor.  The captain reluctantly agreed as although it went against her better judgment, she had been rubbish at science and couldn’t think of a counterargument.

In what seemed like no time at all, we were called to the pens to get buoyancy aids and paddles, and to form up in pairs, like a class of primary school children on a day trip.  We were soon aboard the boat and paddling towards the start line. 

At the off, all the boats were close together but, as the seconds ticked by, the Davey Law boat inched ahead and, to our great excitement, stayed in front!  In our enthusiasm, we continued to paddle like lunatics for several seconds after we crossed the finish line, not realising that the helm had been bellowing at us that we had won and could ease up.  Flushed with success, we paddled back to the docks.

The captain’s husband then had a word with the captain.  The helm had come up with another “helpful suggestion” as to how we might rearrange the seating for even greater success.  The captain wasn’t convinced and would have been quite happy to leave things be, but couldn’t bear the prospect of an “I told you so” conversation all the way home afterwards and relented. 

And so on that premise, the crew was rearranged and we set off for our second heat – in a different boat, with a different helm.  Our second race was soon underway but the paddles were clashing and the crew had lost its rhythm.  Water was flying everywhere and just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, the boat had an almighty wobble.  The helm was sawing the rudder from side to side to try and stop the boat from capsizing and the crew were looking alarmed.  After several lifetimes, the boat began to steady and with some trepidation, the crew began putting its proverbial backs into it again.  It came as no surprise, when we returned to shore, to discover that our time was 2.48 seconds slower.

There was a huddle on the dockside as the seating was again debated.  The 2nd helm had given the captain’s husband yet more “helpful suggestions”.  The captain decided to resist further spousal interference and asked the crew to form up as it had for the first race.  The irony of the fact that the 3rd helm then proceeded to rearrange the crew into the format that the captain had originally intended was either lost or ignored.

Feeling somewhat anxious after our near capsize, we paddled off to the start line.  Half way there, in the very middle of Victoria Basin, the helm called for us to stop.  She thought the balance of the boat could be improved and asked for a pair of volunteers to swap sides.  Two of the larger-framed men dutifully stood up and proceeded to shuffle about.  The rest of the crew shut its eyes as the boat tipped alarmingly from side to side.  Eventually they sat back down and we all breathed again.  Somewhat cautiously, we paddled to the start – with no obvious change to the balance of the boat.

Nerves were jangling by the time we reached the start line and the helm turned the boat around, so we were relieved when the race got underway.  Although the crew were paddling together, the two other boats surged ahead.  Despite of our frantic efforts, we were falling further and further behind.  The captain, who was also the drummer, was shouting at the crew to keep going, but the harder we paddled the further back we seemed to fall.  At last, we crossed the finish line, trailing miserably behind the other two boats.

Dejected, we disembarked.  We had obviously peaked too soon. We stood around under a cloud of gloom, reassuring each other that we had done our best, as we waited for the times to be written up on the white board. Then the captain shuffled closer to take a look and reported back that actually our third heat had been nearly five seconds faster than the first round!  The mood swiftly changed from despondency to elation.  And to top it all, it became clear that overall we would be finishing third from last, which was an improvement on last year. And in any event, our times were better!  Any misgivings about entering next year’s regatta swiftly evaporated and we departed, tired but happy, and ready to paddle another day.

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