The 2022 Severn Hospice Dragon Boat Festival
We asked Team Captain Dr Simon Chapple to give us a round-up of the 2022 Dragonboat Festival on Shrewsbury’s River Severn as the team from Shropdoc went up against 23 other boat teams.
Dr Chapple said a brilliant day was had by all…..
“Our team had low expectations going into the event, because only one of our team had ever taken part in a Dragonboat race before and so we didn't really know what to expect. That said, we were determined to have fun and give it our best, especially because it was raising funds for great colleagues and friends of ours at Severn Hospice, who do so much good in our community.
Practicing at Montford Bridge
“In preparation, on the weekend immediately preceding the event, a small group of us planned to meet in Frankwell car park to practice on the River Severn with some borrowed canoes but hadn't bargained for the fact that 'Let's Rock Shrewsbury 2022' was taking place that day so we quickly rearranged to meet at Montford Bridge. If you've not been to see the river at Montford Bridge, I highly recommend it for the peace and tranquillity there and ease of access to the river.
“The practice event went well with those attending getting to grips with whether they were a 'lefty' or a 'righty' when it comes to preference on which side of the boat to paddle. Three of the group also got a first-hand experience of the temperature of the river and how cloying the mud can be, but that didn't detract from the fun at all!
“By the end of the few hours spent there, everyone had gained their 'sea legs' and Felicity from CCC enjoyed it so much she ordered a kayak that weekend! We all talked excitedly about meeting up in the future, beyond the race itself, to paddle together again.
“In the run-up to the event, the team were kept organised and on track via a WhatsApp group so we could all keep in touch. Inevitably, we had some original team members drop out through injury and other factors beyond their control, which meant that my two children, Angus and Scarlett got a chance to join the team to make up the numbers on the day.
“On 'race day', the Shropdoc Severns all had an early start meeting up at our team tent at 0830 to decorate it and put the kettle on for a brew. Each year, in parallel to the boat race itself, the event organisers run a fancy-dress competition, so some of the team looked very different indeed. See if you can spot the 80s' artists among the team.
“Our team consisted of 16 rowers and one drummer, made up of a mixture of Shropdoc employees and their family members in roughly equal number so this was a real family affair, which accords completely with our values, especially 'Community'. It was heartening to have children on board as this made it a truly inclusive event and we were one of only a handful of teams with younger members on the day. We even had two non-swimmers, which focused our minds on safety!
“As team captain, I went for our safety brief at 0930 at which we learned that we would be paddling over 3 heats to set a fast time and see if we could qualify for the final. I think most of us thought we'd just be paddling once, and we didn't rate our chances, so this came as a pleasant surprise.
“As you might imagine, as most of us had never paddled a Dragonboat before, we had no idea how we would do but we had a plan to match weight, strength and ability across the boat as well as ensuring the 'lefties' were on the left and the 'righties' were on the right. Beyond that, we were going to give it our best and see what happened.
“When the organisers called out the Shropdoc Severns team name over the tannoy system for our first heat, we were all nervous and excited in equal measure. We all had been briefed on our positions in the boat so we lined up and climbed into the boat for the first time. Nobody looked more nervous than Gosia from HR though, as she took up her seat in the drummer's position perched high up and rather precariously at the bow.
“On the way down to the start line for our first heat, we practised paddling in time. We had heard that other teams were going to count, 'one, two' as they paddled but I had a plan to disrupt the other teams' concentration and break the mould a bit, so we counted, 'one, two, three, four' instead!
“On the way down to the start line, we rapidly picked up speed with everyone chanting in time. It felt incredible! We were doing it and doing it well and even created a bow wave as we paddled to the start.
“On starter's orders, we waited nervously for the 'off' and then we were off and paddling for real to the distant sound of the Hawaii 5-O theme tune. Despite telling ourselves that we would paddle 'slow and steady' we found ourselves paddling faster and more furiously by the mid-way point, cheered on by the crowds on the banks of the river.
“It was exhilarating and despite being pipped to the post we set a very respectable first heat time of 01:24.23. Everyone came off the water congratulating each other on a job well done and despite being a bit surprised at how physically demanding that one and half minutes proved, we were already looking forward to our second heat.
The first heat
“On the way back to the tent we started discussing what changes we would make, having learned from the first heat. We changed a couple of team members from port to starboard and vice versa because we felt the boat listed to the left on our first heat, robbing us of precious seconds. Anyone listening would have thought we were seasoned veterans at this Dragonboat racing malarky!
“Having seen plenty of other teams race and realising that our first heat time of 01:24.23 put us comfortably in the middle of the field, when the time came for our second heat we were really motivated to improve on our time.
“As we assembled in line next to our paddling partners on the steps in front of the boat, we rehearsed our strategy, discussing how to get the most power out of each paddle stroke, the ideal leg position in the boat, the depth of each paddle stroke and timing.
“Again, we determined to disrupt things psychologically by counting to our own beat and rhythm, "one, two, three, four" and not the "one, two" that the event organisers seemed to prefer. It caused some consternation with the chap who was controlling our rudder at the stern who tried to persuade us to chant, "one, two" like everyone else. One of the Shropdoc Severns piped up, "but you're not our boss", which made us all chuckle and feel even closer as a team. It was all coming together rather nicely. We took our time going down-river to the start this time to conserve energy and lined up nervously.
The second heat
“On our second heat, we got off to a blistering start and rapidly pulled ahead of our opponents. Watching from the bank, our friends, colleagues and families said they were mightily impressed with how co-ordinated our paddling appeared to them. It must have been good because it felt fast in the boat and we managed to shave a massive 5seconds off our first heat time, crossing the line at 01:19.08!
“We all cheered, high-fived and congratulated each other on a great achievement and realised that at the mid-point of heat two our time put us in 5th place overall!
“Once again, we returned to our team tent thinking about how we could shave even more time off in the last heat. A couple of the team swapped back to their original seat positions and then it dawned on us that Gosia, as an adult, was going to be stronger than Angus (aged 13) and was needed 'paddle in hand' rather than drumstick in hand!
The third heat
“By heat three, we felt like old hands at this game. On the steps we casually waited and held another team talk, less nervous now and more excited about the upcoming physical task. “Our arms and shoulders were aching but we hardly noticed with the excitement and anticipation. The team spirit was palpable.
“On our last run, we didn't even notice the other boat, we were that focused on the real competition, which was the clock. We got off to another great start and started digging deep, paddling faster and faster to our own rhythm, muscles and sinew straining and voices joined in chanting our now familiar mantra, "one, two, three, four."
“As the finish line approached I heard a team voice piping up at the back of the boat, "come on Shropdoc Severns, dig deep, give it all you've got" and we did, we dug deeper powering over the invisible finish line without breaking stroke, so much so the helmsman had to shout to make themselves heard in an attempt to stop the boat!
“The organisers announced our final time as we brought the boat skillfully alongside the quay 01:17.97. We were breathless and tired but exhilarated and proud of our achievement, which, at the end of the day, when the final had been run, put us 8th overall in a field of 24-teams. What an achievement!
“As we handed out the medals, we started planning how we might gain a few more places in the ranking for next year, so watch this space for the calling notice.
“A special vote of thanks goes to Carla at head office for all her help organising the team and ensuring we were all fed and watered on the day. At the end of the day, the Shropdoc Severns graduated with their Dragonboat Race wings, showing themselves to be real contenders."