February 19, 2019

Behold the Dragon Boats

First ever Charlevoix Dragon Festival breathing some fire into summer 2018
By Ross Boissoneau | July 7, 2018

According to the Chinese zodiac, we have to wait until 2024 for the next year of the dragon. But in Charlevoix, that year is already here: the Charlevoix Circle Of Arts will host the inaugural Charlevoix Dragon Boat Festival on Lake Charlevoix Aug. 4.

The concept of dragon boat races dates back more than 2,000 years to around 200 BC, when teams from separate villages would face off against one another in southern China. Both dragon boat racing and the ancient Oympiad, which began around the same time, included aspects of religious observances and community celebrations along with competition. A happy dragon would protect the people, but an angry dragon could wreak havoc. Dragon boat festivals were a way to honor the dragon and assure a harmonious life.  

The history of Dragon Boat races in this country doesn’t date back quite as far. The first ones took place in the 1970s, and it’s only in the last few years that the concept has taken off across the country. According to Gail DeMeyere, the executive director of the Charlevoix Circle of Arts, members of the organization’s board have seen them in different places around the U.S., such as Florida, California and Boston. The board members said they were fun to watch and thought hosting a race and festival in Charlevoix could be a valuable fundraiser for the arts organization and while also raising its profile.

The dragon boat races begin just before 9am on Saturday, Aug. 4, at Ferry Beach, when the dragon vessels are “awakened” from a deep sleep by dotting the eyes of the dragon with red paint. A monk will then bless the dragon boats and the race participants. Then the teams hit the water.

The Dragon Boats are 46 feet long and feature 20 paddlers, one drummer and one steersman. The steersman is provided by the dragon boat company. Yes, there are actually dragon boat companies, which produce the various festivals across the country and supply the boats and accouterments, including the steersman. It is the drummer’s job to synchronize the paddlers, and they typically dress for success: the more outlandish, the better. Often the paddlers do the same.

DeMeyere said several teams are already signed up, representing various businesses and organizations, such as the Charlevoix Public Library team the Dewey Decimators. Costs for a business are $1,500; for non-profit organizations, $1,400. She encourages those interested in participating who have fewer than 21 team members to contact her so she can match them up with others in similar straits and form a team. Cost for individuals is $75. To register or for more information, go to CharlevoixDragonFestival.com.

Of course, it’s not like everyone is born a dragon boat paddler. DeMeyere said the boats are scheduled to arrive Aug. 1, providing a chance for some practice. While it’s not mandatory, it is recommended. The one-hour sessions provide training on the fundamentals of not only becoming an effective paddler but also getting into and out of the long, narrow boats. The training sessions last approximately an hour and will be scheduled during the three days prior to the race.

The races will find two boats will facing off against one another throughout the day on the 250-meter course. Each team is guaranteed two races. Plans call for the last race concluding around 2pm. “We have six boats coming in. Two will race at a time, while two are getting loaded and two are unloaded. All six get awakened,” she said.

While the races are the focus of the festivities, there are plenty of activities scheduled throughout the day around the theme. The festivities kick off first thing with a Dragon Boat Festival Parade, complete with a dancing dragon and team representatives. There will be a children's tent with crafts and dragon boat-related activities, vendors will be selling dragon boat merchandise, and the Charlevoix Brewing Company will host a beer tent featuring a special Dragon Brew ale.

The arts organization believes the fun and excitement will be a boon to the community while charming any dragons that live around the area. “Be nice to dragons and dragons will be nice to you,” said DeMeyere.




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