Paddlers raise enthusiasm, funds in running of Dragon Boat Races

Catholic Charities event sends craft across harbor

September 15, 2002|By Elizabeth A. Shack | Elizabeth A. Shack,SUN STAFF

Drumbeats and cheers echoed around the Inner Harbor yesterday as boats with fancifully carved dragon heads and tails raced across the water.

The biennial Dragon Boat Races are a major fund-raiser for human services programs run by Catholic Charities. Spokeswoman Renee Johnson said yesterday's races were expected to raise about $300,000, the amount generated in 2000, the second time the event was held.

Representatives from 32 area institutions volunteered to paddle the boats across the harbor from the World Trade Center to the Maryland Science Center - about 1,300 feet.

Johnson estimated that 10,000 people braved the overcast skies and brief drizzle to watch the boats race four at a time in double-elimination heats. Most teams finished the race in a little under two minutes.

Harkins Builders won the Dragon Cup for the second time in a row with a time of 1:34.10. The Naval Academy came in second by two-tenths of a second - and bested the Baltimore chapter of Mount St. Mary's College Alumni Association in the first College Cup race.

Each 41-foot, 550-pound canoe-like boat holds 22 people: 20 paddlers, a drummer in the front and a steerer in the back. At least eight team members must be women, Johnson said. The College of Notre Dame of Maryland's team had 18 women, more than any other.

The lead right paddler sets the pace of the boat, and the drummer beats once per stroke, to keep the other paddlers stroking together. "You can feel it when it's not in sync," said T. Rowe Price paddler Jodi Casson. When it is, "the boat just kind of glides."

The teams practiced once a week for two months to learn how to handle the boats and work together. Casson said the Saturday morning practices allowed her to meet many co-workers that she wouldn't have met otherwise.

The steerer's job is to keep the boat going straight.

Some were not as successful as others, and their boats zig-zagged across the harbor.

In its second race, the College of Notre Dame's boat wandered into the wrong lane and finished 47.5 seconds behind the fastest team in that round.

"I lost control of the boat," said steerer Helene Murtha, an associate dean at the college.

The paddlers didn't seem to care. "We had more fun going off course," said sophomore Kathleen Burley.

Besides, said teammate Lesley Fields, a senior, "It's all about charity."

Each team formed a partnership with one of Catholic Charities' human services programs.

The partnerships included social events such as tours of company buildings and meals together, Johnson said.

The activities help raise awareness of the programs, she said.

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