May 31st 2009, 10am, Halton Army Training Camp, Somewhere near the River Lune….
The day has been exactly one month in the planning. Corporate hounding, public sponsorship, borrowing and petty theft have got us to the point where now, we must perform. A team expects… a nation expects.
11 Men walk gingerly down a gravel track towards a scene of excitement, bright lights and the smell of race preparation. This is it, it’s Dragon Boat time.
The sun is beating the backs of these toned, muscle bound men (we might have written this ourselves.) Each of us handpicked, international heroes…..(ok, we definitely wrote this ourselves) Teachers, web designers, IT professionals and Beaver (AKA Martin) make up this fraternity.
Dragon Boat racing is an ancient Chinese tradition and the fastest growing water activity in Britain today – a sport for the lean and the brave. Not for the faint hearted. Up to 10 people paddle each 30’ boat with a drummer at the front beating time and a helm at the tail steering a straight and true course.
We face a minimum of 3 races against the clock. Against our fiercest rivals. Our two best times will be added together and the judges will decide who will qualify for the semi finals. With a starting line up of 21, we have some way to go, but the scent of victory hangs heavy in the air.
We settle into camp and await our call for the first race. It comes. We are ready.
We climb aboard our trusty Dragon, steady and straight we set off for the start line. Our drummer (Tom) beats a steady pace, 1, 2, 1, 2 we fly towards our destination and prepare for the horn. We sit, patiently, our eyes focused ahead. Random shouts of encouragement are blocked out by the intense concentration of a team ready to do battle.
The horn fires!
We’re off, this is it! 10 men fire into gear and its chaos! Splashing, clashing of paddles people shouting 2 when we are still on 1 and a drummer who thinks he is on stage with Guns and Roses.
Race 1 Time: A Dismal 64.19
We are quiet and dismayed, our sponsors expected more. We expected more. Work to be done.
Back in camp we lick our wounds. We know it wasn’t good enough. We didn’t come to splash around.
A quiet meeting takes place, steady paddles are needed and we agree to follow the pace set by our drummer. There is much back slapping and “hell yeahs”. We are ready for race 2.
Our names are called. It’s time to make amends.
This time our helm (always provided by the event company) is an older chap. The old guard, a different class of Dragon Boat coach. Experienced. Unassuming. The Dragon Boat Don. He calms us, rallies the team and guides us to the start line. Once again we hover, awaiting the blast of the horn.
It sounds, we’re off!
This time three mighty paddles launch the boat physically out of the water, 1, 2, 1, 2 the team is in perfect harmony. We steam past the boat in the next lane, we fire our stead to 100 metres and push the Dragon to its limits. We cross the 200m finish line in a scene of jubilation, an effort like no other.
Race 2 time: A second round of 58.58 – The second fastest of the day so far. Oh yeah.
This is it, now we can qualify. A third race of 61 seconds or less and a place in the semi final will be ours.
We have an agonising 45 minute break. The team are ready to push on and make the semis. Time ticks by slowly…tick tock tick tock. We recharge our batteries, refuel our systems. Share fruit shoots.
It’s here, race control calls our name. This is it, its make or break. We do it or we go home. Simple.
Once again we set off for the start line. It feels smooth; a quiet confidence presides over the boat.
We hover on the start line for what could be the final race. Someone shouts “we have raised so much money for Cancer Care, let’s show them why”. A team shout takes place, moral is high.
The horn blows, once again our boat bursts into life. 3 huge paddles followed by the 1, 2, 1, 2 rhythm of the previous race. It’s going well, our finely honed muscles are tired but a place in the semis fires us across the half way point. The end is approaching; final strong strokes push us over the line in first place. Have we done it? We know we were strong and in perfect time…
We climb out of the boat, times not yet announced.
The announcer is receiving the times from the marshal. We stand silently. We wait for what feels like an eternity. The announcer puts the microphone to his mouth. He speaks.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the final heat of the day has been a very close race. Three teams have already secured semi final spots and only one more can join them. Two teams are separated by 0.5 seconds.”
We gasp. The crowd gasps. Silence. Have we done enough!? The announcer returns
“The team, taking the fourth semi final spot is…….. NuBlue!”
We did it, we made it! Cheers and jubilation! We dance the jig of joy. The team return to camp to find the supporters clapping and cheering. We are legends. The semi final is on!
Once again there is a break, the sun is beating down harder and we are tired after a monumental race. The BBQ is fired up and the team eat in preparation for the semi.
Semi Final time arrives, the 1st race takes place. Big times come in from both teams, a worrying site to our tired heroes. We put this to the back of our minds. It’s our time now.
We enter the boat, knowing what we have to do. We have done it before; it’s time to dig deep.
We sit on the start line, awaiting the starter’s orders. Paddles ready, drummer ready. We’re ready.
The horn blasts, we’re off! Once again the 3 starting strokes are massive. The Dragon lurches his head out of the water and we are ahead then the 100 metre line arrives and boy its close. Both boats are Dragon head to Dragon head. Both teams giving everything they have!
150m and its close but we are tiring. A couple of strokes are missed and we are slowing. Too many burgers from the BBQ.
Giving everything we have, the other Dragon inches ahead, one final push and we simply can’t match them. They burst over the line and it’s over. We are battle worn, beaten, crispy with sun burn. But proud.
Our final race time is 60.81 compared to the other teams 59.40. It was tight, ours to win but the team had given everything to reach this point and had nothing left in the tank. What an effort.
From 21 teams the NuBlue Dragons came in 4th. We are happy; next year 1st place is ours!!!
Big thanks to everyone who sponsored us and came down to help the team on the day.
Drum: Tom Obeirne
|Left Paddle||Right Paddle|
|Robert Ellis||Joe Bourne|
|Ewan McLeod||Panos Zafeiriadis|
|Mike Ashworth||Tom Ashworth|
|Alistair Denholm||Paul Grant|
|Martin Ennis||Paul Everill|
Many thanks to our corporate and personal sponsors.
You helped us to raise £900 for Cancer Care!!!