MARATHON, Florida Keys — Elaborate racing “dragons” are to invade Marathon’s Sombrero Beach during the annual Battle in the Bay Dragon Boat Festival set for Saturday, May 14.
A unique direct-from-the-beach launch enables spectators to get close-up views of the sleek, 40-foot-long race boats. They can observe the boats in action as teams of 20 paddlers power them in unison along a 380-meter race course parallel to the beach — a display of strength and teamwork among men and women of all ages.
Dragons represent strength and are a powerful symbol of spring rains and growth in Chinese culture. The modern dragon boat race re-enacts a legend from the fourth century B.C. in which Qu Yuan, advisor to the emperor of the Ch’u dynasty, defied his ruler by drowning himself in the Mi Lo River. In a race to save their martyr Qu Yuan from the creatures of the deep, fishermen beat drums and vigorously splashed the water with their paddles.
Local recreational and traveling competitive crews racing in the event include Ohio’s Dragon Dream Team, Warriors on the Water from Orlando, Fla., and the Conch Republic Navy team that features six members of the Eye of the Dragon, a visually impaired team from Vancouver, B.C. Save Our Sisters, a team of Miami breast cancer survivors who regularly participate in a countrywide dragon-race circuit, also is to return.
Team entry deadline is April 30.
More than 25 races are scheduled, becoming progressively more competitive during division championships. A 2,000-meter “steersman’s race” is an added endurance challenge for the top six competitive teams.
Shoreside attractions during the races include food, beverages, merchandise, entertainment and kids’ play areas.
Early team registration and a Paddler’s Party are set for 7-9 p.m. Friday, May 13, at the Hurricane Grille, 4650 Overseas Highway. Racing begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, with an awards ceremony and Last Splash Island Party to follow at the beach. Events are open to the public.
Event information and team registration: www.battleinthebay.org
Marathon visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/marathon or 1-800-262-7284