An array of paddles stretches over the water, dripping silently while the team waits for their next order.
Steersperson Tom McKeachie yells “go” and the boat jolts forward with the power of 17 unified bodies. The dragon moves rhythmically. Every time the paddles hit the water, the speed increases until the wind begins ruffling the team’s hair.
“Eighty per cent,” coach Mary Rowles calls out from somewhere in the middle of the vessel and they begin to gain speed.
Water starts splashing up from the paddles and the faces of the paddlers are focused in determination. The drills continue as the slender dragon boat gracefully speeds around Long Harbour during a regular Spirit Point Dragons team practice.
As the steersperson, McKeachie has what he called an easy job when conditions are perfect.
“Steering the dragon boat is surprisingly easy when current and wind are not severe, but when there’s cross current, because of the length of the boat, it’s very subject to current,” McKeachie said at Monday night’s practice session.
Precision goes into keeping a boat with around 20 paddlers in line with the goal. The pressure of being the steersperson is high.
“You want to create the least amount of drag possible,” McKeachie said. “An oar in the water is like brakes, and a significant deflection of the oar is real. It slows the boat down. So when we lose by 1/100th of a second I’m going, ‘Should I have done something [different]?’”
Over his time of steering the boat for the team, McKeachie said he’s learned some tricks. They are all tactical and depend on minute variables in a race.
“The races are only just over two minutes and you don’t have three seconds to look around. I can’t even look behind me. You have to focus, and the moment the bow moves off course you have to take corrective action,” McKeachie said. “There’s tricks, like taking your oar out of the water to reduce the drag when everyone is moving forward.”
Rowles, the team’s coach for the past 12 years, is an avid paddler. She has raced dragon boats in Vancouver competitively and still fills in on a team in the mainland. She also paddles outriggers and travels to the Hawaiian Islands for competitions.
Rowles’ team has been presented with some challenges this year. They are looking for new members.
“Being on a small island is the biggest challenge, so your pool of people is pretty limited,” Rowles said. “You need 20 [people], so you’ll enter a race and people have to work or life happens and we don’t have the kind of spares that a larger club would have so we’re pretty dependent on people making the commitment and showing up.”
The team is hosting an open paddle event on Sunday, July 23 from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the end of Quebec Drive. Anyone interested in joining the team can also email Rowles at email@example.com.
For more on this story, see the July 19, 2017 issue of the Driftwood newspaper or subscribe online.