The sponsors have been secured since January. Teams began signing up in February. Local paddlers started their practice sessions this past weekend. Sombrero Beach is being groomed by the City of Marathon for Battle In The Bay Dragon Boat Festival this Saturday.
New for 2011 is the Awakening the Dragon Ceremony taking place at the launch lagoon at 8:15 am. The Chinese tradition that dates back thousands of years involves monks dotting the heads of the boats with paint in a sign of good karma for competitors. Dave Condra, 2010 Rainmaker (top individual fundraiser) has the honor of dotting the eye, assisted by his HeronCane teammates. Returning to start the races with a honk of the conch shell is Mike Puto, Governor General of the Middlemost Territories of the Conch Republic followed by a cannon blast from the Pirates of the Marquesas.
The Flower Ceremony returns at 11:30 am with even more breast cancer survivor teams than last year. Around the world, survivor dragon boat teams celebrate with the Flower Ceremony. Spectators are invited to participate with the teams in a floral tribute to all those touched by life threatening disease. Pink blooms graciously donated by Flowers by J&J can be had for a donation amount of your choosing to Susan G. Komen For the Cure. Race action kicks off at 9 am with the Qualifying heats. Teams in these first sets of races are grouped by similar industry and are competing for a Challenge Race medal. All times from the first round are arranged fastest to slowest and teams are assigned to Divisions based on those times. Movement from the Semi-final to the Final round in a Division is based on a seeding system. The top 6 finishing teams from A Division qualify for the 2000-meter endurance race scheduled to begin at 4:30 pm.
Club crews from Ohio, South Carolina, Central and South Florida are joining local teams for a field of over 400 racers. Teams are made up of 20 paddlers, a steersman and a drummer. “I am really pleased with the amount of competitive traveling teams this year”, said Karen Bowers, event director.
It’s free to watch the races and there is an abundance of activity on the shore in addition to that out on the water. Conch Country’s (98.7 FM) Big D and Bubba are joining the live remote from 12 noon – 2 pm. The beachside belly dancer performs during the first break between races. Reef Relief, serving up cold, craft beer, receives the proceeds from the sales of Dale’s Pale Ale and Mama’s Little Pill. Food vendors offering a variety of meals – Greek cuisine, BBQ, crepes, seafood paella, MYC French fries and other snacks paired with non-food vendors provide spectators plenty for a family friendly day at the beach.
The racing is over at 5 pm but the fun continues when Mad Tea Party takes the stage to kick off the Last Splash Beach party and the public is invited. The shout outs and awards are presented at 6:30 pm followed by more bubbly uke-billy honky tonk from the Mad Tea Party.
Visit www.battleinthebay.org for more information about the dragon boat festival.