According to the Chinese astrology calendar, 2012 is a Water Dragon year. Participants in the annual Battle in the Bay Dragon Boat Festival set for Saturday, May 12, at Marathon’s Sombrero Beach, hope to benefit from the luck that designation is thought to bring.
Sombrero Beach offers a direct-from-the-beach launch from which the 40-foot-long race boats head to the racecourse in unison. Each year crowds of spectators get a close-up view as teams of 20 paddlers power their sleek and elaborately decorated racing “dragons” along a 400-meter racecourse parallel to the beach – a display of strength and teamwork among men and women of all ages.
Dragons represent strength and are a powerful symbol of spring rains and growth in Chinese culture. The modern dragon boat race re-enacts a legend from the fourth century B.C. in which Qu Yuan, advisor to the emperor of the Ch’u dynasty, defied his ruler by drowning himself in the Mi Lo River. In a race to save their martyr Qu Yuan from the creatures of the deep, fishermen beat drums and vigorously splashed the water with their paddles.
More than 25 races are scheduled for the Marathon event, becoming progressively more competitive during division championships. A 2,000-meter “steersman’s race” is an added endurance challenge for the top six A Division competitive teams.
Recreational and traveling crews compete in dragon boat races throughout the country. Favorites in the Marathon race include the Draggin’ Dragons, a senior team from Punta Gorda, Fla., the Florida Keys’ Conch Republic Navy team, Save Our Sisters, a team of Miami breast cancer survivors who regularly participate in a countrywide dragon-race circuit and the two-time Battle in the Bay champions, Tampa Tarpons.
Shoreside attractions are plentiful during the festival including food and beverages, merchandise, kids’ play areas and entertainment such as performances by Fusho Daiko, a renowned troupe skilled in the 2,600-year-old tradition of Japanese taiko drumming. There is no charge to attend beachside activities.
A pre-event Pirate Treasure Hunt is to be held Thursday, May 10, at Porky’s Bayside BBQ, mile marker 47.5.
Early team registration and a Paddler’s Party are set for 7-9 p.m. Friday, May 11, at the Hurricane Grille, 4650 Overseas Highway.
Racing begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, with a Last Splash Party and awards ceremony to follow beginning at 6:30 p.m. at Sunset Grille & Raw Bar, located at the foot of the Seven Mile Bridge, 7 Knights Key Blvd. Events are open to the public.
Team entry deadline is April 14. Interested groups can form a team, or individual paddlers can be placed on an existing team.
Pledges benefit local charities chosen by each team. The Cancer Foundation of the Florida Keys receives a percentage of cancer- and other survivor-team entry fees. According to tournament organizers, nearly 20 charities have received $40,000 since the event began in 2009.
(Lead photo from Nileguide.com)
Event information and team registration: www.battleinthebay.org
Marathon visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/marathon or 1-800-262-7284