The Ware Dragon Boat Regatta
PUBLISHED: 09:49 06 June 2017 | UPDATED: 09:49 06 June 2017
To the beat of giant drums, teams race in long boats down the Lea while spectators scream support from the riverbank. Welcome to June's Ware Dragon Boat Regatta
Dragon-headed long boats flying down the river Lea to the sound of a drum – not some Viking raid, but an annual race through Ware that raises thousands for charity.
Ware Dragon Boat Regatta, now in its 12th year, takes place this month. Organised by the Rotary Club of Hertford Shires, it has raised more than £40,000 for good causes chosen by the club’s president, as well as thousands more raised by charities that enter teams and retain sponsorship.
This year’s president, Ian Woodall, says, ‘The carnival atmosphere and family fun day has been so successful. Over 100 people will take to the water on the day in brightly coloured dragon boats. The excitement of racing to the finish line and beating the best time of the day is intense, and knowing you are not just having fun but helping good causes is the best feeling.’
The adrenalin-fuelled event sees teams of 10 paddling furiously to the beat of their eleventh member pounding a giant drum. Each race consists of two teams in long boats with dragon heads on the prow, provided and steered by leisure company TAG Events.
‘We aim to assemble 14 teams, which can come from local companies, groups, clubs and organisations,’ explains event organiser Philip Walters. ‘The 300-yard course runs from just opposite the Saracens Head, along the river towards Hertford, with the finishing line just past the famous gazebos. Each team has three heats and the teams with the two fastest times go forward to a final which is always very exciting, with the riverbank lined with spectators three or four deep near the finishing line, all shouting and screaming for their favourite team.’
Participants wear team colours with their team names printed on their shirts, and often embellish this with fancy dress and face paints to add to the fun.
Duncan Welberry captained the winning team in 2015 - the Braughing Boot Campers - and narrowly missed out on victory last year. He says the dragon boat race is intense, but is more about skill then brawn. ‘When you start trying too hard you see the rhythm go and the boat slow. Our success is down to having fun and being secretively very competitive once we get going. The best thing is the team camaraderie and knowing we are raising money for good causes. Last year we raised £1,800 and will be back on the start line again this year. The event has a village fete feel and there is plenty to keep children and adults amused in a very English way. Everyone is there to have fun.’
This year’s event, which will be officially opened by town mayor Jonathan Kaye and will coincide with the Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School summer fete on its playing field that borders the towpath. The president’s chosen charities for the race are Bloodwise, which is working to eradicate leukaemia and other forms of blood cancer, and locally-run charity Help for Education and Local Projects in The Gambia, which supports the daily nutritional, educational and health needs of seriously deprived children in rural Gambian villages.
Over the years, many charities of varying sizes have benefitted from funds raised by the race teams, including Isabel Hospice in Welwyn GC, Mudlarks community garden in Hertford and the Herts Air Ambulance.
The race has become one of the main annual charitable community events on the Ware calendar and Philip knows firsthand what it takes to compete, having entered a team to raise money for Crohn’s and Colitis UK. ‘It was great fun and, although the course seems relatively modest, it is quite challenging for participants when they are battling against a rival boat alongside them.
‘The event attracts several thousand people during the day. The atmosphere is light-hearted and friendly, with the excitement building during the day as the scores are recorded on a large board after every heat. The final race between the two teams with the best times from their three heats is very exciting. Invariably, the two boats are level during the race, with the boats taking it in turns to nudge ahead with each movement of the paddles. The drummer must remain consistent with the beat of the drum, for if the paddlers are not in unison, the race is lost.’
Why has the event been such a success? ‘I think because it is enjoyed by everyone - the team members, their families and supporters, together with spectators. Although the members of Rotary are effectively working on the day, we too enjoy the fun and atmosphere.’
The Ware Dragon Boat Regatta will run from 10am-3pm on Saturday, June 10.