A pair of visiting teams will be among the paddlers to watch this weekend as the Penticton Dragon Boat Festival hits the waters of Skaha Lake.
The Navy Dragon Anchors aim to defend their championship. They are among 69 teams, including six locals and the Flying Dragons special-needs crew, participating in the 19th annual festival, Sept. 6-9.
“Whenever we go to a festival, we always go to win,” says Bob Wiggins, a retired navy officer and coxswain. “Doesn’t matter what it is. The worst we have done this year is second in two festivals and we have won three.”
The Navy Anchors have competed in Penticton since 2012 and it has become their go-to September festival, replacing Portland. Wiggins says they love the people. It is always about the people and getting together with other competitors, enjoying their company.
When they go in the water, they march together.
“We carry our paddles like they are rifles,” he says. “We sing various songs, “Heart of Oak,” the official march of the Royal Canadian Navy.
Launa Maundrell, co-organizer of the PDBF with husband Don Mulhall, says the Navy Dragon Anchors are one of the top mixed teams.
“They are fast and strong,” says Maundrell. “But they know how to have a good time, too. We always see them in the beer gardens.”
Wiggins credits their strong team to coach Will Slater and the majority of the crew being gym rats. Wiggins then talks about Cat Black, Lisa Ross and Mike Weirmier, who returned from the International Dragon Boat Federation Racing Championships in Pattaya, Thailand, Aug. 20-25 with 85 medals, including placing second, while representing Canada.
Wiggins says the quality of teams in the PDBF is pretty good.
Belle Puri echoed Wiggins’ sentiment regarding the quality of teams, but the reporter/producer at CBC Vancouver added to it differently.
“We are quite a capital R recreational team,” says Puri, who has come to Penticton since 2010 with the CBC Wavecatchers. “We just like to be together and be on the water.”
The Wavecatchers have had interesting experiences over the years at the PDBF.
“Once we were in a collision. Another boat rammed us. There were no injuries,” she says. “We still ended up with a bronze. We were going for gold. Two years ago, the wind came up and the conditions changed in the qualifying races. Somehow we were the only boat that stayed on course. We won that race.”
Paddling on Skaha Lake is different compared to False Creek, which is where the Wavecathers typically train.
“The water is much heavier up there” on Skaha Lake, she said. “It’s only the one time in the season where we experience that.”
Maundrell and the organizers always hope for good weather, the one thing they can’t control.
“We hope for good weather, no wind or smoke,” she said.
“Our focus with the PDBF in these 19 years has been the athletes first. We want to have a good racing experience. That has always been our No.1 priority.”