For the ultimate in corporate team-building, you can't beat the Lake Superior Dragon Boat Festival in Superior.
Saturday was a brilliant day for it, the water in Superior Bay glassy and Barker's Island a ready and sun-drenched playground for the colorful event.
Craig Fellman, president of Duluth-based contractor Jamar, rode a bicycle and was content to play the role of crew support.
"I'm just cheer-leading today," he said after delivering high-fives to the men and women on the company team. "I'm not even in the boat, and that's because there are so many different people who want to do it."
Jamar was one of several API Group companies participating, including API Construction and LeJeune Steel. It makes for camaraderie within the individual companies and friendly competition between them. In one early heat, Jamar's team edged LeJeune, covering the 400-meter rowing sprint in under 2 minutes — the time that separates the super-serious from the merely sporting.
"First and foremost, being here is about the charitable aspect and giving," Fellman said of the event, which has raised $910,000 since its inception. "Jamar and API have been supporters for 15 years."
This year's proceeds will go to programs specializing in homeless families and youths in the Twin Ports, "particularly those programs that bring people out of homelessness into a home, employment and productive life style," said the event's website.
The event that began in 2002 is run by three Twin Ports Rotary Clubs, and fueled by an ample staff of sky-blue shirted volunteers. The beer tent opened at 10 a.m., making for a day of steady pours and oars.
"Look at that team go," one dreadlocked observer could be overheard saying. "They are in rhythm."
"That was the first time for a lot of us," lamented one participant after a not-so-rhythmic paddle.
The event is a screen printer and pun-makers' paradise, with creatively designed T-shirts for teams dubbed things such as Blazing Paddles and Holy Rowers.
There wasn't a breeze to speak of, and the rolling grounds and boardwalks at the event made way for a team from the active duty United States Coast Guard. The boat brought together members of the Coast Guard Cutter Alder, based in Duluth, and other full-timers and reservists from the local Coast Guard station, federal office and engineering support units.
"We don't get to play together very often, so it's nice to be able to get the units together for this," said Petty Officer First Class Michelle Duty, who works out of the federal building in Duluth.
After one heat, the Coast Guard put itself inside the top 30 in the day's early going. They finished second in their three-boat heat — joining a team from medical device giant Medtronic by coming in under 2 minutes. The Coast Guard was gunning for its first-ever entrance into the medal round between the day's best of the best.
The dragon boats all feature a horde of 20 rowers, a steering person and a single drummer at the front of the boat — back to the finish line, beating time and barking in the faces of the rowers. For the Coast Guard, it was familiar territory.
"We're used to getting yelled at," Duty said. "But we pick up the cadence really quickly."