This can’t possibly work out…
Over 40 km of paddling around Hong Kong, dealing with ocean swells and boat wake in a craft made for flat water and straight line sprints. You would have to be crazy.
About a week ago, Royal X did just that. They took a page out of the outrigger and sailing book and were the first ones ever to paddle a dragon boat around all of Hong Kong Island.
How did they think of that?
According to Gianni Aprea, team captain and one of the driving forces behind the team, “The idea came up during a post race celebration. The conversation started, as they often do, with comparisons of dragon boating to outriggers. Someone said that it wouldn’t be possible to make it around the Island in a dragon boat.” In response to that, Gianni scheduled the event on the team’s Teamsnap site. In Gianni’s own words: “Everyone thought it was either a joke or just plain crazy. However, no one on the team wanted to miss it!”
This was no mean feat. The distance alone is enough to break the will of most paddlers, but the greatest challenge is making sure the number of paddlers and limbs who finish the trip is the same as at the start. “The most important thing for all of us was to keep everyone involved safe,” says Gianni. The team spent. countless hours considering all of the variables and preparing for the worst possible outcomes, including doing drills to recover in the event of a capsize.
Even just scheduling the event was difficult. This was, very wisely, an event with periodical crew changes, so there had to be enough paddlers and safety boats. Add to that the fact that weather had to be favorable. In epic adventure style, the event was re-scheduled 3 times and wasn’t confirmed until 2 days beforehand.
Is it really that difficult?
This is no mean feat, and that is why no one had tried it before. Their adventure started along a shipping channel where, even when ocean swells are small, large container ships go by and throw big wakes that travel for over a kilometer, hitting the dragon boat sideways, reflecting off land and then hitting the boat again from the other side for good measure. After that, they turn into Victoria Harbour, where high speed ferries coming and going to different islands and Macau team up with pleasure and fishing craft to turn the water into a veritable washing machine. Once that is done, the next turn takes them on the path of the aptly named Big Wave Bay, the home of the largest ocean swells in Hong Kong. As if that was not enough, the third and final turn to take them past Tai Tam and Stanley Bays are favorite surfing spots for the surfski and outrigger crowds to surf.
The reward? Stunning views or rock formations once they leave the urban harbourfront, the camaraderie of doing something most people thought was not possible, and bragging rights for life. Gianni says it best: “The whole experience was incredibly gratifying. If I had to pick one then it would be the anticipation of how the day would unfold at 03:30AM. It was then that I realized 40 people would be waking up soon to attempt something with me that most people said was impossible…not to mention dangerous. It might sound overly dramatic, but that was a pretty awe inspiring experience for me and something I will never forget.”
When asked if something unexpected happened, Gianni responded: “It is impossible to predict everything that can happen with an event like this. Given the number of people involved who had done the Around the Island outrigger race, we had a good idea of where the most difficult areas would be for the dragonboat to pass. Oddly enough, the expected troublesome areas were handled with relative ease.” The gods did smile upon Royal X and rewarded them with some stunning moments at the harbour and in the wilder side of Hong Kong.
What is next?
According to Gianni, “the dragon boat Around the Island was neither a race nor an attempt to set a record time. It was a proof of concept to show that this could be done. The next step would be to either try to do it much faster, include a dragon boat category in the Club’s annual Around the Island Race or hold a similar multi-club event specifically for dragon boats. This was a wonderful experience and it would be great to see other clubs get involved.”
There you have it! The seeds for a new race were planted by an extraordinary group of paddlers.