A thrilling dragon boat regatta for the Radars of the Lost Ark

7 Oct 2015 - 14:30

The Radars of the Last Ark

Our brave team: Back row from left to right: Dane Du Plessis, Riccardo Palama, James Gowans, Dominique Gouveia Fragosa (our Captain), Johan “Skippy” Burger. Front row: Stephanie Jonkers, Abishek Bhatta, Ashiv Dhondea, Shirley Coetzee, and Taiani Lange.

On 3 October 2015, the intrepid Radars of the Lost Ark, a team representing the postgraduate students of the Radar Remote Sensing Group at UCT, participated in the 9th Annual Dragon Boat Regatta, which was held at Zandvlei lagoon, just north of Muizenberg.

Although it was a damp and drizzly Saturday, eager participants and their loyal supporters started to arrive at the Zandvlei Sports Club in Promenade Road, Lakeside, by early morning. This is the home of the Imperial Yacht Club as well as the Peninsula Canoe Club.

The yacht club is a family-friendly sailing club, with a focus on youth sailing and training. Regular practice sessions for youngsters and adults are offered throughout the year, and coaching is available at all levels, from complete novice and beginner to experienced sailors learning to race.

The clubhouse, on the western shore of Zandvlei lagoon, quickly filled up, as everyone sought shelter from the light but relentless soaking rain. Not surprisingly, the stands selling hot and cold refreshments saw a steady trade throughout the day. The combination of coffee and doughnuts proved very popular, as did the cups of steaming hot chocolate and the boerie rolls.

The team heads out of the sheltered pond for their first race in the vlei

The team heads out of the sheltered pond for their first race in the vlei

The event had been organised by the Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope, in conjunction with the Western Cape Dragon Boat Association. WBHO Construction generously sponsored the UCT Radars of the Lost Ark’s dragon boat.

All proceeds of the events will go to financing the projects of the Rotary Club Cape of Good Hope, whose projects include the Valley Development Projects (VDP) Open Door Child Safety Centre, minor upgrades to some of the facilities of the False Bay Hospital that are not covered by government, support for preschool children (in the form of fees, uniforms, extra murals etc.), support of the aged and indigent in the community, and various Rotary Youth Programmes, such as RYLA, Interact and Youth Exchange.

The history of dragon boat racing in South Africa is an interesting one. This ancient Chinese tradition dating back some 2,000 years was introduced in the country only fairly recently, in 1992, when two beautiful flag-catching dragon boats were presented to the city of Cape Town by a sister city in Taiwan.

The Radars of the Lost Ark do their very best!

All the team members are doing their very best to cross the finish line first!

After a few years, Dragon Boats South Africa (DBSA) was formed, and gradually, dragon boat racing took off in the city, with various clubs being formed and teams participating in local and international races. Training and coaching sessions are held regularly at the V&A Waterfront, and occasionally in the canals at Canal Walk shopping centre. One of the teams participating in Saturday’s events was the amaBele Belles in bright pink jerseys. They are Africa’s first breast cancer survivor team, having been formed in April 2006. They practice twice a week, usually at the V&A Waterfront.

Dragon boating is the perfect team-building opportunity, as crews must work together as efficiently as possible. The drummer, who sits right at the front behind the dragon-headed prow of the long, narrow boat, facing backwards, is responsible for keeping the rhythm going so that all the team members move in sync. The paddlers sit in pairs, facing forwards; they take their cue from the pacers, the first pair of paddlers, who set the pace for the team. The sweep or steersman steers the dragon boat with a long sweep oar, rigged at the rear of the boat, using this as a rudder.

Although it is exhausting to paddle against the strong out-flowing tide, they have a lot of fun!

Although it is exhausting to paddle against the strong out-flowing tide, they have a lot of fun!

The dragon boats used during this regatta were relatively small; they were crewed by 10-person teams with one drummer, and with an experienced sweep supplied by the Association to ensure that there were no unforeseen mishaps or mid-race collisions on the vlei. Bright orange life-jackets were supplied for all participants, and safety boats with qualified life guards kept a close eye on the races.

Only three boats at a time participated in each of the heats, and our team faced stiff competition. Although several teams were clearly experienced and keen to defend their title or unseat last year’s winners, some of the participants (all the ones in our team at least) were new to dragon boat racing. Our supporters, who included Prof Daniel O’Hagan and his wife Juliane, as well as Dr Andrew Wilkinson, cheered loudly from the shore, shouting encouragement to our brave team members.

In the end, the Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies Team came first and won the Best Dressed Team prize too; CA Global Team came in second place, while the Thunder Down Under Team was well placed in third position. Our Radars of the Lost Ark came 14th out of 22 teams, and were awarded a trophy for Perseverance (well deserved!) and a cash prize of R1000.

Congratulations to our intrepid dragon boat racers – you made us proud!