Volunteers keep dragon boat paddlers in line at races’ start (with video)Dragon boats lined up off Barker’s Island on Saturday, each packed with 20 paddlers primed to propel their narrow, 45-foot watercraft in a furious race down 360 meters of Superior Bay.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Dragon boats lined up off Barker’s Island on Saturday, each packed with 20 paddlers primed to propel their narrow, 45-foot watercraft in a furious race down 360 meters of Superior Bay.
But Dale Bergeron, equipped with just a piece of PVC pipe, kept all that human energy from going anywhere until just the right moment.
Meet some of the unsung heroes of the annual Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival. Bergeron and 19 colleagues, all volunteers, worked two-hour shifts on 4-foot-by-8-foot floats in the water near Barker’s Island Inn to make sure each of the four boats in dozens of races got a fair start.
Does it bring a feeling of power?
“Ultimate power,” said a grinning Bergeron of Duluth after finishing his rookie shift as a starter a little after noon on Saturday.
In reality, it might seem like a thankless task, risking sunburn and occasional splashings from a score of paddles and being left behind while the paddlers get to compete for dragon boat glory. But Bergeron, whose day job is maritime transportation specialist for Minnesota Sea Grant, didn’t see it that way.
“C’mon, all these great people having fun?” Bergeron said. “I mean, you gotta be part of that.”
Ernst Palmer, a native of Germany who lives in Carlton, agreed. A longtime boater, Palmer was involved in the festival Saturday for the third year, but served as a starter for the first time.
“I couldn’t help but get involved with … so many things the community draws
together here,” Palmer said. “It’s a very unique community.”
Satisfied volunteers add up to good news for Jim Sharrow. Sharrow, the vice president of the Duluth Boat Club, coordinated all of the in-water volunteer activities at this year’s festival. He arrived at the guest dock at the Barker’s Island Marina at 8 a.m. Friday in his 38-foot sloop Obsession and hadn’t been home since.
Sharrow, who is facilities manager for the Duluth Port Authority, often was in a dinghy shuttling between his sailboat and volunteers on the water. He delivered boxed lunches, answering requests for volunteer T-shirts and responding to a myriad of questions.
The boat club always has handled the water operations for the festival, Sharrow said. It’s a way to serve, and it’s also a modest fundraiser. The club expected to receive between $7,000 and $8,000 of the proceeds from this year’s festival after expenses, he said.
The money is earmarked for a water sports center the boat club hopes to develop near the end of Park Point as a home for various non-motorized boating organizations, Sharrow said.
Formal fundraising for the center, estimated to cost $750,000, hasn’t begun, Sharrow said. That awaits presentation to and approval by the Duluth City Council. But the city administration has been supportive of the idea. The boat club has $25,000 in the bank for the project so far.
Todd Sharrow, 27, of Duluth said he volunteered to be a starter to help with that project — and because Jim Sharrow is his father.
In his fourth or fifth year as a dragon boat starter, the younger Sharrow has the technique down.
“The bar holds the boat parallel as well as a distance away from the starting block,” he said, referring to the white PVC pole.
Each starter places his bar between the fifth and sixth seat of the boat he’s responsible for. “There’s a piece of duct tape on the gunwale of the boat as well as on the starting block,” Todd Sharrow said. “You just match those up, and they’re in alignment.”
An official in a separate boat holds up a red flag as the boats are being aligned, and then a white flag as the starters lift the bars out of the way. A pistol sounds from the starting boat, and in an instant all of that people power is unleashed.
“It’s a real exciting moment as they start,” Jim Sharrow said. “You get up close and personal with the crew.”
The Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival, in its 12th year, raises money for Duluth and Superior Rotary clubs, as well as the event’s charitable partner, the Essentia Health Foundation. This year’s goal was to raise $97,000.