By Darren Lum
Published Aug. 28 2018
Not even a decapitated dragon head could take the Haliburton Highlands Paddlers off their game this past weekend.
During the Copper consolation final nearly halfway to the 300 metre course the figurehead came off of the Paddlers’ boat. They were racing in Kempenfelt Bay at the Barrie Dragon Boat Festival hosted by the Barrie Public Library on Saturday Aug. 25.
Stanhope’s Joannie Ransberry who was sitting in the middle of the boat remembered her coach’s advice.
“We were coached [that] no matter what happens to keep on going. I was the one whose paddle hit the head. I didn’t know what it was” she said.
The team of 20 paddlers plus one drummer (Elli Armstrong) finished first in the four-team field taking their second and final heat at the festival beating three other boats. The next closest boat was five seconds behind in the event which included close to 1800 paddlers.
The open festival also featured a platinum gold silver and iron (after copper) race categories – in that order. Boats were organized according to time after the first heat. Inclement weather reduced the number of heats from the scheduled three to two.
Minden’s Heather Taylor an original member of the Paddlers said it was an achievement to not only compete but achieve a solid result with adverse conditions such as a strong cross-wind and choppy waters which resulted in waves crashing over the sides and into the boat. It was a stark contrast to the Paddlers’ usual practice venue.
“We’re used to calm waters here. All our practices are on Grass Lake which is always flat in the morning. To get out to [a bay with] a few white caps winds. It was a challenge in being able to paddle through that” Taylor said.
Despite these challenges the team finished with its best time by more than a second in its three-year history at the event.
Ransberry is 73 and Taylor is 72. They are among the eldest on the Highlands team which is made up of both men and women. The youngest members are in their 50s.
Taylor said it’s an accomplishment to be competitive against mixed teams that are made up of paddlers in their 20s and 30s including some with a dozen men.
She said paddling in-sync helps overcome the difference in strength.
“We’re just all together” she said.
The team’s coach in this event is Lois Deacon who has been with the team since the beginning. Scotty Boyd coached the team in Peterborough earlier in the season.
Entry to the festival was dependent on a $500 minimum donation to a charity of the team’s choosing.
The Highlands paddlers fundraised more than $600 for the Haliburton skateboard park.
The Paddlers’ season starts with an open house in spring followed by paddling which begins in mid-May and ends mid-September. With their 23-year-old 1400-pound dragon boat named Susanna Foo the club paddles Mondays and Wednesdays twice a day in the morning and in the afternoon.
Jane Boyd an original member said the rough waters made it difficult to get into the boat and to remain anchored while paddling. It was an accomplishment she didn’t fall into the bay she said.
The Paddlers which had 50 registered members this year have come so far since they started five years ago. In the first year Boyd remembers how everyone laughed at the notion of competing in a dragon boat festival.
“It was beyond the realm of our comprehension we would go into a competition let alone be somewhat competitive. The club has matured and is very cohesive. We’ve got people of different backgrounds and abilities. Everybody is welcoming. I think that’s what I find so exciting” she said.
For information on the club see their website: www.haliburtonhighlandspaddlers.ca.