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Dragon Healers

9-19-08

Race started today at 9am (7am PST). Weather for today: scattered clouds, no wind, 82 °F. A nice balmy day for a ride down the Amazon. Go Healers! – Webmaster


RACE DAY # 1:

Kathy - All the paddlers in the support boat started stirring at 5:00AM. I do not believe any of us got much sleep. I had my usual pre-race dreams (usually the night before a marathon) I lost my paddle (almost did on day #3), missed the boat, lost my PFD etc.
We were taken to the island where our rafts were built and stored overnight. We saw our flags first. We had three flags on our raft, the U.S. flag, a rainbow flag and the State of California flag moving gently in the morning breeze. I was excited, scared and I was ready to race. We pushed our raft into the water and it floated!!! A tank floating? Yea it can happen and ours did. Ross commented “it floats and looks like home, it will be home for the next three days.” We got on and paddled to the start line. We wished our other Healers crews good luck and headed out. As much as we talk about focus during a Dragon Boat race, I did not fully appreciate the absolute importance of it until these races. Lack of focus could mean life or death. There is always the possibility of hitting a sandbar, swift currents, fallen trees, and animal life. We saw pink dolphins and gray ones, beautiful butterflies and lush greenery. The river is vast and majestic; there are places where it as wide as 2.5 miles and at times a stones throw wide. Lake Merced is a bathtub!
The moment we got on the raft, the four of us had to be as one with the raft(also named the Orange Submarine ) The team work, the community and the synergy which I talk about all of the time were the elements which we would need to accomplish our goals and be safe. Literally each person’s life depended on the other three people on the raft. When one person stopped paddling it had a tremendous impact on the raft.
Ross decided we should switch sides every 15 minutes and Brian kept the time. When switching, the raft needed to be balanced at all times, bracing was not a technique we could use here. In order to switch you had to look at your partner and do exactly what they were doing and mimic the movement precisely with yours, a ballet of sorts. These were stressful moments. At times we switch by the person in front laying flat on the raft and the person in the back crawling on hands and knees over the body of the person lying. That way, that side of the raft was always stable. By the second day we had this routine down and other rafters passing us gave us inquiring looks. A lot of crews switched sides by just standing and walking.
Our first day was uneventful. We passed several crews and sometimes paddled side by side with some. No one knew where the finish line was, so if you were not focused you could miss it or have to back track. We did not want to do this because we were racing and wanted to do well. We were paddling side by side with the crew from Ohio, a father and son and two natives, 1 British and a Peruvian crew when we spotted the finish line! I called a finish and to the astonishment of the other crews we surged (yes, you can surge in a submarine). Of course not many of the paddlers were dragon boaters so they have no idea of our lingo. They did not know what were doing! It was a long finish and we had the element of surprise on our side, we crossed the finish line way ahead of the other three rafts!! Our time for that day 5 hours, our goal was to finish in the top half and that we did! We hugged and congratulated each other and waited on the shore for Healers Red and Healers Green to come in.
We spent the next few hours sharing our adventure with the other Healers and planning race strategy for the next day. Both Healers Blue and Healers Green had to make adjustments to their rafts. Ross, Janet and Rob attended the captains meeting that night to hear about the race course for the second day of racing. This is supposed to be the most grueling day of the three day race! –

Ross - Well we are up again at 5:00 a.m. with the sun.  The Malaria pills are really effecting the dreams.  They are extremely vivid and intense.  Kind of fun really.  I just hope they don't get weird.  Anyway, breakfast is early today and we are off to the Island were we constructed our rafts.  Not everyone returned to the Support Boat last night.  They must have slept on the beach.  When we got to the island there were people still working on their rafts.  There were many camp fires still smoldering.  We help the Red team put their raft in the water.  It is very heavy, but floats quite well.  The Red team helps us carry our raft to the water.  It is heavier and also floats.  Unbelievable.  The back end is a good 1" below the water surface.  We get on and try it out as do all the other rafters.  The raft doesn't glide very well, but is very responsive.  So, we will end up paddling hard, but should be able to steer easily.  The resistance on the paddle is very similar to the 6-8 people in a BuK boat back home, like we practiced.  So, no real surprises.  We head out, notice our new Peruvian Lady friends.  We call them "our ladies".  They head to the outside around the other rafts and we decided to follow them.  We thought we heard a horn and with all 46 rafts all over the river we were off.  However, at about 500 meters up it looked like everyone was "holding up".  The horn goes off again and it looks more like the actual start.  We were about 250 meters behind.  Oh well, I guess there were two starts and we will have to paddle a little harder than everyone else to catch up.  We pass many other rafts in the first 25 minutes, our Red team and then the Green team soon thereafter.  The Peruvian ladies team is out of sight in the next 20-30 minutes.  It's hot, a slight breeze and no bugs.  We started out switching sides every 15 minutes.  We switched all 4 paddlers and the raft came to a stop or at a minimum just floated with the current.  We would be passed by 5 other rafts.  Once we are underway again we would easily gain back on 4 of those rafts.  We stretched the 15 minute switch to 20, then 25 minutes.  20 minutes seemed best.  After switching sides for the 3rd time, we realized that it was taking too much time.  And, it was discouraging to work so hard gaining back our spots to just give them back again during the next switch.  It wasn't very comfortable switching (and maybe a little scary) because the raft wasn't very stable.  But, the more we switched the better we got at it and the more comfortable we became.  We decided to keep two people paddling while the other two switched, then those two would paddle while the remaining two switched.  That way the raft was being paddled by someone all the time.  With our newly discovered method, the other rafts closed in on us by very little and we did not give up any places.  Now, we are moving ahead and passed several more rafts.  When Brian and I were up front, the front end just dug into the water.  It made paddling tougher because we just "plowing" through the water.  So, we just dug in and paddled harder.  There is a lot of searching for current.  We discovered that there are several currents.  They typically are only a meter wide, or less, and serpentine in a dramatic fashion that you really don't want to take the time to follow it precisely.  So, we just made sure we were close to it and followed the same general direction.  There were many whirlpools or dead spots.  Some of them we steered around, but mostly we just called a "Power 10" or a "Power 20" and dug hard through them.  It became clear quickly that our front seats were too far forward.  So, we made a short "need to modify" list for when we land at the end of the day.  While our cross braces were cut very short, we decided to add them to the list.  We continued to follow the current which had a lot of flotsam consisting of sticks, tree branches, flowers, yucky foam, and an occasional empty water bottle.  Our day went quickly and 4 to 4 1/2 hours went by before we knew it.  Kathy saw the finish line first and we all believed it.  She was right.  As a result we started "powering" up before the other rafts near us.  We passed them easily, called a "Power 10" or "20", and several "Finish-it-Now(s)".  I think we impressed the other rafts.  We landed a little before the finish line not seeing the white flag, had to back out and head down stream about 10 to 20 more yards.  That was our only mistake today that cost us only 2-3 minutes.  After we landed, Ed our "Tour Guide" from the Support boat indicated that we finished 14th overall.  Wow, top 1/3rd.  We waited and watched Green and Red finish.  We ate lunch on the boat and walked around town.  The town houses are hut-like just as you would expect.  Few horses, couple of pigs, and chickens.  Most yards have water closets high in the air on pedestals.  It looks like artwork.  Strange.  I'll have to inquire about them.  Brian and I grab Cecilia's drill, saw and a few zip ties.  We cut away the front seat, move the seat platform back, re-tie the seats, trim the front cross braces and re-enforce the outside logs in front with an extra zip tie.  Good improvements and it only takes about 10 minutes.  The Green crew worked on their raft, too.  But, they are very "cagey" about their modifications.  Hope they don't have any tricks up their sleeve.  Anyway, we shower, lather up in deet, and eat dinner.  There is a Captains meeting in the field where the plastic tents are for the other paddlers.  They make a few announcements and Mike C. explains the race course for tomorrow and gives us some advice.  The sky is dark, but filled with an extraordinary number of stars.  We return, relive the announcements and advice for our fellow crew mates.  We turn in and try to get some sleep.  It's hot tonight and the novelty of hammock sleeping has worn off.  See you tomorrow.  -

 


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