Barb McColl rushes up the ramp to high-five a supporter after her Brew Crew team’s narrow victory Sunday morning during the Save-On-Foods Dragon Boat Festival at Nanaimo harbour. Mike Watkin

Dragon boaters make waves at Nanaimo festival

NANAIMO – Dragon boat festival draws 71 teams and 14,000 spectators over weekend.

Wind heaved the harbour, but failed to founder the 2013 Save-On-Foods Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival over the weekend.

The event, which drew 71 teams and an estimated 14,000 spectators, dragonboat team members and supporters over the weekend, got off to a bumpy start, but still generated plenty of action.

“Unfortunately we had weather problems on Saturday after the opening ceremony,” said Heiko Behn, Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival Society chairman. “We just thought it was too windy so we cancelled the afternoon races. Then we carried on Sunday and we managed to get everybody in.”

Dropping Saturday’s heats meant the teams competed in six races each – 60 heats in all – instead of eight heats as originally scheduled.

“One thing we don’t control is the weather and we just decided it was too dangerous,” Behn said. “They might have survived, but why risk dumping a whole bunch of people into the water.”

Winners of Sunday’s heats will move on to the 2013 Dragon Boat Nationals at Elk Lake in Victoria August 21-24.

Moving the race course to deeper water helped avoid dragon boats running aground and future races will follow the new course layout.

“There was a little consternation initially because it was a change from what we’ve done, but it worked out marvellously,” Behn said.

Other changes included the dotting of the eye and blessing of the waters ceremonies that, this year, were moved to Saturday from Friday and were conducted by Snuneymuxw First Nation dancers and elders. The change in time meant more than 1,000 people, including competing dragonboat teams were one hand to witness this year’s ceremonies, representing a much larger attendance than for previous years.

Because of windy conditions, the carnation ceremony where participants release carnations on the water in memory of loved ones, was also moved from Nanaimo Harbour to Swy-a-lana Lagoon.

“That worked out much better than we ever had anticipated,” Behn said.

Entertainment, organized by Crimson Coast Dance Society, plus market vendors invited into Maffeo Sutton Park for the event kept spectators entertained through the weekend. Entertainment included everything from First Nations dancers to belly and flamenco dance and an Elvis impersonator.

Net proceeds from the festival support Nanaimo Hospital Foundation to improve the diagnostic and treatment process for breast cancer patients. Money raised over the weekend hasn’t been tallied yet and likely won’t be for about two weeks, but net proceeds are expected to come in between $40,000 and $50,000. The money will help pay for a new $100,000 imaging system at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

The 2014 Dragonboat Festival is scheduled for July 4-6.

For race results and more information about this year’s Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival and plans for 2014, please visit the festival website at

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