It is hard to know where to start in telling you about the Festival. Firstly, it was an amazing experience to first come to Maagan and see the Dragon Boat Israel banners up everywhere, and everything set up.
The site was perfect – it was large enough to fit everyone but small enough to get around without too much frustration. The races were set up to go right in front of the beach for easy spectator viewing.
On Practice Day, all the teams got an hour of practice on land and an hour on the water. Everything went remarkably smoothly, with teams arriving at the marshelling area on time and getting off the water on time too. The day started pretty early, with the first teams on the water at 7 am. I confess, I have no idea when other Festivals start, but given how hot it got fast, starting as early as possible made sense. Also, the water was as smooth as glass in the morning and remained quite calm into the afternoon, but by 3 pm, the wind kicked in. By 4 pm, the waves were high and there were kite surfers on the water. Races would have been impossible by then.
Everyone was psyched by the success of practice day and went off to the dinner at Hamat Gader Spa in a great mood. Dinner was in a huge field with tables set up and an elaborate buffet around the edges. By the time dinner was ready, the temperature had cooled down enough to make it a lovely evening. (One of the many things I love about Israel is the lack of mosquitoes and other flying, stinging insects that attack in swarms as soon as evening approaches. Although I did see a 6-inch locust on the road on the way back to the hotel, so each country has its pros and cons.)
We were up early again on Race Day and the level of excitement was immediately much greater. The teams were all in their uniforms, cheering madly, the vendors were all there and the place was buzzing with action. Again, things ran very smoothly and on time. I was impressed with the organizers’ attention to detail. For example, I wore a red volunteer shirt and at times other volunteers popped by to offer fruit, sandwiches and water. I was so busy that the only time I managed to eat was when someone shoved food into my hand, so I was very grateful.
There were also several stations with large vats of cold water for paddlers and volunteers to refill their water bottles. I admit, I assumed that was an Israeli thing and thought it a very smart idea in the incredible heat. I was surprised when one Israeli friend said to me, as he refilled his water, that he thought the water stations were a great idea too. So I guess it isn’t an Israeli thing, but it sure was smart.
Many people I talked to had never raced before, or were on teams that had never raced together, and almost all of them said, “Oh, I’m sure we’ll come in dead last, but I don’t care. It’s just so great to be here.” So many of them were delighted to actually do quite well. They discovered that concentrating on working as a team really did make a difference. The final race was comprised of a very experienced team, the Tailgators, who were expected to win going into the Festival. They were a marvellous group of people, steering for many of the other teams as well as racing themselves. They all worked very hard! There was also an Israeli team and a team from Ottawa that hadn’t raced together before and were shocked and delighted to find themselves in the finals, L’Chaim on the Mayim.
In the end, the Tailgators won, the Israelis came in second and L’Chaim came in third. It was generally agreed that there could hardly have been a more perfect end – with the experienced dragon boat racers, an Ottawa team (comprised of several of the dragon boat steering committee), and an Israeli team in the last race.
Two Abreast was the team that won the Breast Cancer Challenge. Moishe won the donations race (with almost $17,000 raised) and the incredibly energetic Social Awesome Team, made up of young Ottawa adults, won the Spirit Award.
It’s 4:30 am in Israel and I’m writing this in the airport, so my apologies if I missed anything important! I’ll be filling in more details in the next couple of days.
Rivals on the water but great new friends off – Alan Nymark and Paul Finn congratulate each other. Paul’s team, the Free Spirits beat Alan’s on the water, but Alan’s team, Moishe, beat Paul’s in donations. Everyone is happy!