Race Day in Victoria

The first-place Alameda DragonFlyers/Oakland Renegades women‘s team

When you travel with a dragon boat team, a local team serves as your host in camp. They provide canopies, chairs and basic food stuffs. Alas, the didn’t leave us anything gluten free, and being Celiac, that’s a problem for me. But luckily Canada is a very gluten-free-friendly place, so I had already found a GF muffin at the hotel’s grab-and-go.

(In a gluten-free aside, Friday afternoon several of us went to the Empress Hotel for a very pricey high tea. I’m kind of a tea aficionado, so I was willing to splurge even if I couldn’t partake in the cakes and small sandwiches. But to my surprise, they offered an alternative plate of GF goodies.)

In addition to our ADF mixed boat, we partnered with the Oakland Renegades to create a women’s boat. Remember, it was here in Victoria that AFD had won first place in a women’s race once before. We even managed to have one practice with the Renegade women, who practice on the same estuary as we do, before the trip to Victoria.

The race was held in Victoria’s Inner Harbor right in front of the Empress Hotel. It is an active harbor complete with ferries, water taxies and even sea planes. It was also in the center of the City which made it easy to wander around, grab lunch or a cup of tea. And the race hotel was kitty-corner to the Empress, so everything was walkable. And the Harbor is beautiful.

Like always, the first day was qualifying heats. It was an amazingly well-run event. First thing you need to know is that Canada is a hot bed of dragon boat racing. Once I got to Northern Washington, people stopped mistaking my paddle for a rifle, and they all were familiar with the sport.

The race day began with the singing of the Canadian National Anthem. Then the marshalling started. Marshalling can be kind of a chaotic experience, but these Canadians had it down to a science led by a commanding (and loud) gentleman who kept the teams organized, engaged and enthused.

For this event, I drummed for the mixed boat and the team’s other newly-minted drummer drummed for the women’s boat. Our mixed team fared decently. We were at a disadvantage because we had only three men on the team for the qualifying heats on Saturday and only two on Sunday. Men are allowed to make up up to half of a mixed boat for races, but ADF rarely hits that limit. The mixed boat didn’t ultimately medal, but it did move up a division from the last time we raced in Victoria.

On the other hand, the hybrid ‘Renegade DamselFlyers’ boat was doing pretty well. It was a split-roster boat since while neither ADF or Renegades had enough women to make a boat alone, between us we had more than 20 women. So a few paddlers sat out in each race on a rotating basis. At the end of the second day, the women’s boat was set to race in the final for the Diamond, B division. I was rotated out for that last race, but in a way I was lucky because I could enjoy the performance from the shore.

It was nothing short of thrilling to watch our boat pull ahead and win. You will have to excuse my shouts of exhilaration in the video. While winning was beyond exciting, the prospect of collecting another medal was eagerly awaited – at least by me.

Alas, that elation was short-lived. We learned that the teams in the B division races would not receive medals, but were rewarded with a generic luggage tag promoting the sesquicentennial of Canada. In a word, we were disgusted. How could our great accomplishment go unrewarded?

While we were at the hotel bar both celebrating our win and drowning our sorrows over the lack of bling, one team mate showed up with her luggage tag attached to a maple-leaf festooned lanyard around her neck. That seemed like an inspired idea, especially after a few drinks. So while part of our group were out to dinner they procured lanyards for the whole boat, and we each fashioned our own medals.

The next morning while waiting to go to the airport we were able to enjoy an impressive eclipse. But the trip went downhill from there. Most members of both ADF and Renegades were returning on the same flight. There was no plane in sight when we got to the Victoria airport, and it was nearly an hour past our departure time before any appeared.

As a result, none of us made the connecting flight from Seattle, and we all had our own unique adventures getting home. I ended up on a late flight to San Jose where I found my paddle, but no suitcase and took an Uber that got me home to Alameda around midnight.

At home I hung my faux first place medal with my other trophies. As time has passed, I’ve become quite proud of it.

As a footnote, on the second day, the powers that be decided we should sing not only the Canadian anthem, but also the American anthem out of respect for the American participants. Unbeknownst to my team mates, I recently sang the Star Spangled Banner as part of a choir at a Philadelphia Phillies game, so I was comfortable with the intimidating song. They got quite a start when I started belting out the National Anthem. Hint: It’s a lot easier to sing if you sing loudly.

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