Our 4th year of entry in The Dragon Boat Races at Bewl Water and, as always, it never disappoints. We had 3 boats this year.

Boat 1 Dad’s Navy, who made a return from last year bigger, better, and stronger than before.

Boat 2 Laptops & Lipstick, an all-woman team with their very own coach! Boat 3 Chartwell Allsorts, a unique blend of boys, girls and (fallen) angels. This year’s race consisted of 49 boats, a lot of competition. As usual we register early. Laptops & Lipstick boat number 4, Dad’s Navy boat number 7 and The Chartwell Allsorts, well, the Allsorts were missing their captain. Now, if you’re an avid reader of the yearly Dragon Boat article, you will know who this is! Yes, Captain Stacey Brown was running late as usual. Finally, all three boats were registered, better late than never, Allsorts boat number 17.

As you know my job is to register the teams, round them up and spend the day running and shouting at everyone! However, this year I just could not get my counting hat on. Eventually, after several trips to the registration tent, I finally managed to confirm the number of crew, who they were, and which boat they were on.

Within no time at all, Laptops & Lipstick were heading off for their induction, 16 paddlers and 1 drummer all lined up and ready to paddle.

It is important to note, at this stage, that you need your most coordinated people at the front so that the paddlers behind can follow their rhythm. It always looks easier than it actually is! As you head out, you all paddle to the start line. Rhythm is good! You then have to turn and wait with the other two boats you are about to compete against for the countdown……. 3, 2, 1, GO! You then paddle as fast as you can as you race towards the finish line to the sound of Hawaii five O music. By now though, lots of rhythms are totally out of control! The fastest time of 3 races is the time which takes you forward to the final positioning. At least you get three attempts to practice!

After the first round of races, Laptops & Lipstick 1.50.22, Dad’s Navy 1.22.27 and Chartwell Allsorts 1.47.58.

Race 2 added to the excitement with Dads Navy and Laptops & Lipstick competing against each other. Race 2 always amuses me, as your captains normally have a little shuffle and reorganise the teams in the hope that everyone suddenly becomes more co-ordinated!! Watching team members giving words of wisdom to new paddlers with top tips on technique is very entertaining.

Now, normally on your second race your times improve, but for some reason Dad’s Navy seemed to relax a little and were miliseconds slower! Laptops & Lipstick managed to be 3 seconds faster in race 2 with Chartwell Allsorts also improving by nearly 2 seconds! Believe me every second counts!

After a long gap for lunch, a few drinks, a few more drinks for some, and a few little naps for others, it was back on for race 3.

The last race is where you give it your all, you have nothing to lose and everything to win. A golden place in the 11-boat final. Once more, the paddlers are re-organised in each team with every effort to ensure they are leading the way with the most co-ordinated of their paddlers.

Laptops & Lipstick went from strength to strength, with their best time out of the 3 races 1.43.75. knocking 7 seconds off their first race.
Chartwell Allsorts, they certainly were all of a sort when they paddled home to what they thought to be their fastest time.

Post each race you will find all competitors at the time board to see where they came much to the jubilation of the Allsorts when a time was posted of around 1.18.21. They couldn’t believe their eyes and they were right not to believe them too. The timings had gone up incorrectly and, after much debating, the time was corrected to 1.47.17. The tears flowed, and the feet stamped! Having been beaten by Laptops & Lipstick, the Allsorts returned to their seats to talk through their last race and discuss their overall fastest time in Race 2 of 1.46.03 not enough to reach the all-important 11 boat final.
Now Dad’s Navy, they were on fire this year in their first race 1.22.27, Race 2 1.22.51 and Race 3 1.20.07! They could be in the final! From this point onwards, until all the boats have competed, it’s a constant back and forth to the time boards to see if you are knocked off your spot. As each round went by, they were hanging in at 7th overall. As more teams completed their races, they dropped slightly and just in the last couple of rounds, they were knocked back to 13th position. Such a blow, we nearly made a final after 4 years! However, all was not lost. The officials decided, as the top 17 boats were all fairly close in time, that there would be a 6 boat ‘Mini-Final’ as well as the usual 11 boat ‘Final’.

That meant that Dads Army had made it to the Mini-Final! A little bit like the World Cup playoffs for 3rd and 4th Place.

I know, I know, but when there is a final in the title you must race. Mark was briefing his team on tactics and organising the final order, or did I confuse that with all of them standing around sipping beer? Kevin Kingshott had to go leaving the Dad’s Navy boat one short but, fear not. Knowing how desperate Captain Stacey Brown has been over the last 4 years to reach a final, Kevin gallantly offered him his place. Never has one man looked so happy – it was a dream come true!

With less than 1 minute between all 6 teams, they boarded their boats to do battle. Once more to the sound of Hawaii five O. They paddled like their lives depended on it and finished with a fantastic time of 1.13.07. Now I don’t like to say it, but I will. Had they paddled that hard earlier in the races, they would have made the 11-boat final! And, to add insult to injury, the overall winner of the major final came in at a time of 1.14.60! Next year, it is all to paddle for!

As always, a massive thank you to everyone who came along on the day, from the spectators to the paddlers, to the last-minute substitutes. I hope you will all agree that it is a fantastic way to raise money for a fantastic charity. Big thanks to the guys in the office for having to pull in the teams and an even bigger thank you to the youngsters that joined in from the drumming to the paddling. Finally, special thanks to a couple of ladies who took part, not knowing anyone, very brave of you.

I do hope I will see you again next year, after all, there’s a major final to get into!