Dragons on the Willamette
Saturday 27 June 2015 — Category: Outings
In my last article — Big Ships and Big Bubbles — I recounted my early-June outing to photograph the big navy ships docked in Portland during Fleet Week, part of the annual Rose Festival celebrations. But that was not the only event on the Willamette that weekend!
A bit further upstream from the navy ships, smaller boats with crews of 23 were racing each other between the Marquam and Hawthorne bridges — a distance of approximately 700 yards. Ignoring their modern clothing, it would have been easy to imagine, based upon the style of their boats and their furious paddling, that I was watching competitions from the dawn of dragon boat racing more than 2,500 years ago.
During a period of 45 minutes I photographed four races, each time from a different vantage point. For the first race I was near the middle of Hawthorne Bridge; that angle provided good light from the morning sun as the boats passed to the west of my position.
For the second race I was about a quarter of the way from the west end of the bridge, and for the third I was near the western end. For the last race I observed, I had moved onto land to photograph from the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, which was fairly full of fellow spectators and photographers.
According to the event organizers, this was the 26th annual Dragon Boat Race, with 70 to 90 teams from all over the world competing in Taiwan-style dragon boats. A country bumpkin like me never whudda thunk that such a spectacle took place in the big city of Portland!
After four rounds I realized that I had pretty much covered the races from all the angles. I took a total of 193 photos — the best 54 are on display in the new Portland Dragon Boat Races 2015 album.
I was intrigued by the caller, whose main responsibility is to beat a large drum in the bow of the boat to keep the rowers synchronized and up to speed. The only other time I had seen such a thing was a scene in Ben Hur. Charlton Heston sure could have used one of their life jackets!
Part of the fun for the crew is to dress up for the occasion — especially the three non-rowers: the tiller, the caller and the flag catcher. A number of the pictures in my collection show that they were doing their part to keep Portland weird. When I wander around the Big City on my photographic outings, I suppose I’m doing my part too!