|(Click any image to enlarge it.)|
A large booth sponsored by the Taiwan government introduced attendees to some elements of the country's culture and handed out literature, some of it explicitly political. Although I did not ask, it appeared that representatives of the People's Republic of China were neither invited nor welcome to participate. Indeed, there was a Falun Gong booth, which pretty much assured the PRC's non-participation should they have been otherwise inclined. It all seemed like the event was designed by Chinese expats in Rhode Island to promote the Taiwan government to the non-Chinese in attendance. Not that there's anything wrong with their motivations -- it's just demoralizing to see something so apparently noncontroversial as an ancient boat type being used for political purposes.
|Underneath their colorful decorations, the dragon boats in Pawtucket looked somewhat industrial.|
Okay, enough politics. The six identical boats are 50 feet tip to tip, 58" in beam, and weigh 1,500 pounds. They appeared to be made of fiberglass and, in spite of their lovely, colorful decoration, looked somewhat clunky and barge-like. They seat 20 paddlers plus a steerer, a drummer, and a "flag catcher." This latter individual is the foremost person in the boat, and his job is to grab a suspended flag at the finish line. Not only does this keep the steerers focused on going straight and not interfering with their competitors, but it also provides officials with a second visual cue in case of close finishes.
I was told by one racer that most race hosts in the U.S. provide identical boats and paddles for all teams. (He also said that some hosts have narrower, faster boats than I saw in Pawtucket). This is nice, as it makes it purely a skill competition among paddlers and takes technology and money out of the equation.
The race was a 300 meter sprint, straight, one-way. (One of the event organizers insisted that it was a mile, but with winning times of about 1 minute 45 seconds, I had to force myself into polite mode in order not to contradict him publicly.) Other dragon boat races in the U.S. may be as short as 250 meters or as long as 2 km.
|Steering oars. Note also how close the seats are. The paddlers are packed in pretty tight, making good coordination and a good drummer essential.|
|Bracket ("fixed oarlock"?) for the steering oar on the starboard quarter. It appeared to be made of stainless steel.|
|Steering oars in place on the starboard quarter.|
|I enjoyed the variety of logos on the team "jerseys." These guys looked pretty serious...|
|...but these guys didn't.|