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Dec. 5, 2019
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Vinnie Mendes On the Water

Two distinct species: Housboatians and Blowboatians

One interpretation of the Bible states “And God saw everything that He had made but something was missing. What He desired was to show that He had a sense of humor. So He created Houseboaters and Sailors and He saw that it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” An alternative: about 60,000 years ago two sub species branched off from the human race, Homo Sapiens Houseboatian and Homo Sapiens Blowboatian. 
 
So today these two species co-exist more or less in harmony wherever there is water. The major difference is that Houseboaters never leave the dock unless they have an auxiliary generator running to power the  TV, refrigerator/freezer, washer/drier and of course the Waring Blendor. Sailors on the other hand will be out on the water whenever there is a puff of air from any direction. They don’t require anything but a set of sails and optimally a cooler full of beer and ice. A stand-up head is a plus but not absolutely necessary. Houseboaters are usually in a hurry and thus create a lot of wake moving from point “A” to point “B.”
 
Sailors poke along and eventually arrive at their destination sooner or later. I was discussing this with a Houseboater friend when he boldly announced that “You’re either a wake maker or a wake taker.” I told him I’d keep that in mind next time I topped off the fuel tank of my sailboat, probably next September or October. (Last I checked, marine fuel was approaching $5 per gallon and some of those big houseboats burn 30 gallons an hour.) 
 
One thing these two species have in common is they both know how to party. Some of the best parties I’ve attended were with either Sailors or Houseboaters. A memorable one occurred several years ago at the Christmas Parade of Boats, then sponsored by University Yacht Club. Now I’ve seen boat parades in LA, New York and Miami, and although the big cities have more boats in attendance, we make up for it in quality and pizzazz! Gone are the days when you just outlined your boat with Christmas tree lights. Some of these light shows are worthy of the Las Vegas Strip! (Some people have too much time on their hands!) 
 
That year we were invited to attend the boat parade on a luxurious houseboat, followed by dinner on board. About noon the owner called me in a panic because he had burned out the impeller on his generator. I spent the afternoon running all over Hall and Gwinnett counties trying to find a new one with no luck. Then I tried to rent a portable generator with the same result. It was decided that we’d just take a boat ride as observers then come back to the dock, plug in the shore power and continue the party. 
 
Now there was a woman at the party who probably thought she was going to a reception in Buckhead. She wore a suede pantsuit, four-inch stiletto heels and an attitude. She spent a little time on deck, announced she was cold and went into the cabin to sulk. After a great dinner and a few glasses of wine her attitude began to thaw but was still on the frosty side. Then my buddy A.J. announced that he was going to make “Mud Slides.” This is a slushy chocolatey alcoholic beverage that goes down like a milk shake and is so addictive that it should have a warning label! As A.J. was shoveling ice cubes into the plastic blender container, I warned him that he should crush them up first. He assured me that it would be fine and produced the first batch.
 
By this time people were lined up to get one, so he had to repeat the process several times. In the middle of mixing the third batch, the plastic container exploded spewing frozen chocolate sludge over everything within range. Who happened to be first in line waiting for her Mud Slide? You guessed it! The woman in the suede pantsuit! 
 
You’ve heard about “swearing like a sailor?” Sailors didn’t stand a chance against a woman in a suede pantsuit splattered from the frosted tips of her hair to the toes of her stilettos. I almost felt sorry for her until she started in on her date making his life miserable, as if it was his fault. I was so glad it wasn’t my fault for once!
 
 
 
 
 
Mendes has been sailing all his life and on Lake Lanier for the past 25 years. His family owns a marina/bar/restaurant so he has plenty of real life experiences to draw from. His favorite line: “You can’t make this stuff up.”





November 2019 column

 

Special meaning of 'Greetings from Home'

Growing up on the Jersey shore was a fun experience. My three brothers and I had a river to swim in and sail on and endless acres of coastal woods to play in. The hills were honeycombed with old bunkers and tunnels, some of them dating back to the Spanish American War and we spent endless hours playing imaginary games in them. They were basically concrete gun emplacements connected by tunnels, some of them hundreds of yards long. They once held the “Guns as big as stairs with shells as big as trees” that they sing about.

They were the same guns that are mounted on our Navy’s battleships, each one capable of hurling a projectile the weight of a Volkswagen up to 24 miles. Our battleships each had nine of them. (After World War II the big coastal guns were all sold for scrap to the Gillette Razor Company because of their superb steel. The battleships all went into moth balls to be called back when they were needed for Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.)
 
This country had the strongest coastal defense in the world, which is one of the reasons we were never attacked form the sea. Nowadays you don’t have to invade a county’s shores or bomb their cities to defeat them. All you have to do is cut off supply of a raw material they need to keep their economy running, such as tungsten, beryllium, rubber or oil. If you want to find out why we are involved in any part of the world, check out their natural resources.  
 
It was a different world in the middle of the Cold War. When I joined the Navy right out of high school, I got to see parts of the world I never even dreamed of. The downside was I had to take orders from someone who was dumber than I was but had been in the Navy six months longer. I got out after four years and went to college, thinking I’d come back as an officer and make it a career. By the time I graduated, Vietnam had heated up and I opted to try my luck as a civilian. 
 
Meanwhile my next younger brother, Paul, went to college first and later enlisted in Army ROTC. When he graduated, he became a second lieutenant and was shipped off to the fighting. He later retired as a full colonel after 28 years, making more money in his retirement than I ever made working! He also had a bunch of really good stories to tell. 
 
One of these involved him off in the jungle with a company of soldiers being pinned down, with the enemy fire drawing ever closer. Not only was his life at stake but he had the responsibility for the safety of all the men under him. Quickly calculating the odds for survival, he called into headquarters for artillery support. Unfortunately, all the Army artillery units were engaged, but the fellow said the Navy might have a unit in the area. Paul wasn’t very optimistic because he knew they were at least 15 miles in from the coast but a minute later the voice came back over the radio telling him he was being patched through to “Sledgehammer.”

Now all the Army artillery units had named like “Tackhammer,” “Clawhammer,” “Ball Peen,” etc. This made him wonder, “What is Sledgehammer?” Anyway, he radioed in the coordinates for the location and was told to take cover. Next thing he knew KABOOM! The entire side of the hill disappeared! It was like a B-52 strike! He radioed in “Mission accomplished,” then asked “What the F#*% was that?” The voice came back over the radio, “Son, that was the Battleship New Jersey.” He thought “Ah, greetings from home, and not a moment too soon.”

- In memory of Col. Paul Mendes, May 9, 1944-Aug. 22, 2019.
 


October 2019 column

God's country

Recently I was sitting on the lawn at Lake Lanier Sailing Club, listening to a live Jazz band and watching the sun sink into the trees on the opposite side of the lake. Sunsets here can be compared with those I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Every one is different and depending on the cloud cover you can get all kinds of colors ranging from reds to deep blue and purple. I think the best is when there are high clouds over Alabama and as the sun goes under the horizon, they are lighted pink and orange from below giving you an entirely different perspective. 
 
About this time the fellow next to me said “Man, this is God’s Country.” I thought about it for a bit and tended to agree with him. When I first moved down here in the early 1990s I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. (Although my son went to school at Berry College in Rome, so I had been sending my checks down here for quite a while.)
 
I thought I had it made when I lived up on the Jersey shore with all the action at the family’s marina, but there we had to haul every boat out of the water by October and put them all back in the water in the spring. When a job opportunity in Atlanta came up, I didn’t take it too seriously because we had some close friends who had moved here from Cape Cod. They had a beautiful 34-foot sailboat, and someone told them “There’s no sailing in Atlanta. There’s only one tiny little lake with no wind and it’s wall to wall power boats.” They sold their boat (taking a big hit on it) and got into “lawn maintenance” i.e. gardening.
 
My brother in law had lived here since the 1970s so he showed me around the lake on a weekday when there were about a dozen sailboats out with a fine breeze and not a power boat in sight. I accepted the job, moved my boat down and the rest is history.
 
Fast forward a few years when I owned a rental house in Buford. I got a phone call from the town hall telling me that I had a water leak on my side of the meter, and they had turned the water off. I asked the lady if she could recommend a plumber. She said she couldn’t, I would have to look in the yellow pages. Then I asked what kind of permits I would need to get it fixed. She said I didn’t need a permit.

”It’s on your property, you can fix it yourself!” I got out my shovel and dug up the pipe, then down to Home Depot to buy about $7 worth of parts, fixed the leak and turned the water back on. When I called the town hall to tell them everything was back to normal, I found that I got a one time “Free Pass” for the excess water on my bill that month since it was caused by a leak!
 
If that happened in New Jersey, I would have to have gone to town hall to get a plumbing permit, then arrange for a “licensed” plumber with his “licensed” assistant to get the leak fixed. Then back to town hall to arrange for the plumbing inspector to approve it. Once it’s approved, back to town hall to arrange for the water to be turned on. Every step of the way I need my envelope full of $20 bills to make sure the process is not held up by “paperwork.” Here, nobody has to get paid off! Just one more reason why I love it here!
 
To get back to the sunsets, my most memorable one occurred several years ago when I had about a dozen people out on a charter for a “Sunset Sail.” Just before sunset a wild thunderstorm came through so I dropped the sails, started the engine and sent everyone down below while I ducked into a cove to ride out the storm. It was all over in about 15 minutes, just in time for sunset. Everyone came back up on deck and not only was the sun setting in the West, but the full moon was rising in the East, each one with a perfect rainbow! It was an ethereal experience, almost like you would see in a Disney movie!
 
Thinking back on that, I don’t agree that this is “God’s Country.” This is where God comes when He takes a vacation!


September 2019 column

Farewell to an old warhorse

People become attached to inanimate objects just like they become attached to pets. That’s how I felt about an aging Tartan 36 One Ton racing sailboat which I acquired about 35 years ago. I named her “Shadowfax” after Gandalf’s horse in “The Lord of the Rings.”
 
She was a beauty, built for Charlie Britton, the president of Tartan Yachts at the time. She was actually the prototype for the Tartan 34, 35 and 40. This was an era before they knew how strong fiberglass was, so she was extremely heavy by modern standards, having more weight in her lead keel than most boats her size.
 
Like most One Ton Class racers of her time, she required a large crew, usually about 12, to race her and a minimum of four even to get the sails down. If the enormous jib was not rolled up properly, it wouldn’t fit in the sail bag and therefore wouldn’t fit through the hatch to the sail locker. 
 
I sailed her all up and down the East Coast from Maine to the Chesapeake and for the last 25 years or so on Lake Lanier. Now that my kids are grown and moved away it’s hard to find enough people to crew her, consequently my wife and I did not go out on the lake as much as we’d like. I solved the problem by buying a 32-foot Bruce Roberts ketch with roller furling jibs and lazy jacks that I can easily single hand.
 
This created another problem of having two boats. Very few people can afford one boat. Almost no one can afford two. Regrettably, I put her up for sale (read “adoption”) and after two years of lowering the price every month she still sat there in her slip. I even tried to donate her to the Junior Sailing program at the sailing club, but they wouldn’t take her. The only offer I got was from some foreign sounding gentleman who “inadvertently” sent me a check for $2,000 over the price, telling me to pay the extra money to the boat hauler in cash. Now I may be crazy but I’m not stupid! I simply sent the check back and never heard from him again. 
 
Finally, at the end of the year, I reluctantly donated her to “Boat Angels” who would sell her on eBay and use the money to build orphanages in Africa. I kept track of the bidding and with six hours to go, the top bid was $205! I told a buddy who wanted the engine and he bought her for $405! 
 
I figured if anyone was going to cut her up it should be me, so we hauled her out of the water and plucked the engine out. He then sold her back to me for a dollar and sadly, I began the job of dismembering her, salvaging all the teak, hardware, sails rigging and anything else of use. 
 
Each afternoon I would take my trailer load of scrap up to the county landfill where they knew me by name. Finally, I got down to the lead keel. I estimated it weighed in the neighborhood of 5,000 pounds. It was bolted on with about a dozen one and a quarter inch bronze bolts, going thru eight inches of fiberglass in the keelson. I rented a gasoline powered circular saw like the highway department uses to cut up concrete roadways. 
 
After two days of cutting I final got it free. A friend had loaned me a two-axle trailer that could carry the load, but my little pickup truck was far too light to pull it. I then rented a box truck from a local agency, happily paying the extra $15 for the supplemental insurance. (I could envision a scenario where I made a right turn off the interstate and the keel kept on going straight!) 
 
Things went smoothly until I got up to the scrap yard in Gainesville. After the lady with the magnet, hammer and scraper certified that the keel was solid lead, they couldn’t get the tines of the forklift underneath without it sliding away. Finally, the forklift driver came at it from both sides getting enough of a grip to slide it back off the trailer. When the weight of the keel got past the rear axle, the front end of the trailer bounced up about three feet in the air taking the back of the box truck with it until the trailer hitch broke loose from the ball and the truck crashed back to earth. Luckily no one was hurt! I felt that this was one last defiant gesture from an old friend who is gone but not forgotten.
 
Epilogue:
The forklift driver took the keel over to a scale which printed out a slip of paper stating that it weighed 5,214 pounds. I took the paper to the cashier who gave me a check for $3,212. A few days later I took the receipts from the county landfill along with some pictures to the Hall County Tax Office where they took her off the tax rolls. Now I have a lot of pictures and fond memories of her and can enjoy sailing with my wife on Lake Lanier in the new boat.
 

August 2019 column

Prohibition, common sense and rum running on the Jersey Shore

Will Rogers once said ”Thank God we don’t get all the government we pay for.” Among the many examples of this was the 18th Amendment, which forbade the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol. Not only did it cost the country many millions of dollars in tax revenues, but also set up any number of businesses, both large and small to circumvent the law. Although the major notoriety was concentrated on the large operations sponsored by organized crime, there was a much smaller and possibly more widespread industry of which I know a little firsthand. 
 
I grew up in a little seacoast town near Sandy Hook, N.J. where the two major industries were clam digging and lobstering. My paternal grandfather was a bootlegger who actually owned a speakeasy where he sold booze from the “Rum Row,” a line of ships anchored off shore just beyond the three-mile US Territorial limit where the Coast Guard had no jurisdiction. He also sold his own homemade beer and ’shine.  
 
Now it’s hard to explain to outsiders how anyone could collect a few dollars from their friends, row three miles past the point of the “Hook” and row back in with a fortune’s worth of booze … if they didn’t get caught! The small guys usually weren’t worth the Coast Guard’s attention. The commercial rum runners were another story. They had their boats built by Seaman, a third-generation boat builder in Long Branch, who built all the local lobster boats and Coast Guard boats.

These weren’t actually the big “Pickets” or “Cutters” but 55-foot “Chase” boats designed to do nothing but go fast and catch rum runners. Paradoxically, they were built in the ways along side of the very boats they were supposed to chase! Both had WWI Liberty aircraft engines, but that’s where similarity ended. The Coast Guard boats were built to government specifications with heavy ribs and scantlings designed by some third year naval architecture student at the Coast Guard Academy. The rum runners were build light and fast, designed by Seaman.
 
I used to sail with an old lobsterman who would tell me stories. It was all very exciting until you realized that the Coast Guard was playing for keeps. One of his friends got shot and described the surprise of feeling like you got kicked in the back by a horse and looking down to see part of your lung poking out of your plaid flannel shirt! Fortunately he got away and survived to tell the tale. 
 
One of the tricks the lobstermen would use was to tow the cases of booze in a net behind the boat. If the Coast Guard spotted them, they would cut the tow line and the net would sink to the bottom. Tied to the net was a buoy with a bag of salt. After a certain amount of time, the salt would dissolve, and the buoy would float to the surface. If the water was deeper than the buoy line, they would have to drag for it, a lot of times unsuccessfully. Quite often we’d be sailing along and he would look at the compass, line up a church steeple with a chimney and say with a tear in his eye ”You know, we’re in seven fathoms of water but there’s 10 cases of the finest whiskey you ever tasted down there.” Even in the 1950s I remember every once in awhile a clamdigger would rake up a bottle of booze. Within the hour word would spread and half the bay would be there thinking there were probably a treasure trove of rare old Scotch or Canadian whisky at the bottom.
 
Finally in the early 1930s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put an end to the madness and the 21st Amendment was passed to repeal the 18th. When that occurred, my grandfather simply hung a sign out in front of his speakeasy and went on with business as usual.


July 2019 column

Leaf blowers, jet skis and the 100-foot rule

One of my favorite things to do on Sunday morning is to sit out on my deck with a cup of coffee and the Sunday Times crossword puzzle. Unfortunately, I have to do it early as about 9 a.m. the neighborhood leaf blowers fire up. I fondly remember the quiet days when people used to rake leaves. You could sit outside and enjoy the trees and the sky with the birds chirping and the other sounds of nature and concentrate on what you were doing. Now with the leaf blowers you need a set of ear plugs. I’m sure that all of the lawn services instruct their employees that if they finish a one hour job in 20 minutes, to put on their head phones, start up the leaf blower and walk around for the remaining 40 minutes.
 
A distant relative of the leaf blower is the Jet Ski. Now you may think that this is like comparing a barge to a sailboat, but besides from both of them being things that float on the water, they are both required to display the same running lights after dark, i.e. red and green port and starboard and a white light on the stern. Jet Skis and leaf blowers both use gasoline engines to make a racket in the otherwise quiet and pristine environment of the lake and are similarly annoying. I have ridden Jet Skis as well as Ski Doos (snow mobiles) and have been a long-time motorcycle rider so I can understand the mentality of having the power to go from point A to point B very quickly. The feeling of control with the rush of the wind going past and the centrifugal force of a turn taken at speed is exhilarating.
 
The favorite sport of Jet Skis is to jump the wake of larger boats, the closer the better. This would be all right if they had full control of the craft and the boat making the wake was small enough that they could see what’s coming on the other side. When they try it with an 80-foot houseboat there are occasionally spectacular midair collisions. You can check them out on YouTube. 
 
Now when I first moved to the lake about 25 years ago, my next-door neighbor was a fishing guide. He had been on the lake forever and knew an awful lot about fishing in general and fishing on Lake Lanier in particular. About once a week I would see him walk down to his dock with a fishing pole and walk back up about 20 minutes later with a big fish! I asked his secret, and he said after every Christmas he tied a brick to his Christmas tree and sank it in the same place off his dock. The small fish came to hide out in the branches and the bigger fish came to feed on the smaller fish. He knew exactly where to cast his lure and, voila, fresh fish for dinner!
 
Over the years he had collected a number of good Jet Ski stories. I think the best one was when some teenager jumped the wake of his 25-foot Grady White, missing him by about a foot. He yelled at the kid who came back and did it again, flipping him the bird in the process. He figured he’d teach the kid a lesson so he got right behind him about three feet off his port quarter and chased him all the way up the lake, under Browns Bridge, past Gainesville, through the Rowing Venue and on up into the Chattahoochee River until the Jet Ski ran out of fuel. Then he simply turned around and said “Adios @#*hole,” and went home leaving the kid stranded. (This was long before cell phones.)
 
Incidents such as these have led the Georgia Department of natural resources to impose the 100-foot rule, which requires any vessel approaching another vessel, dock, shore or person in the water to do so at no faster than idle speed, unless meeting in a normal rules of the road situation. It’s a problem gauging 100 feet out on the water with no familiar objects to compare to. To help with this, Aqualand Marina and Gainesville Marina both have two floating signs displayed near their gas docks with arrows pointing at one another. The distance between them is 100 feet. This will give boaters an idea of what 100 feet looks like from their vessel. There are plans for more marinas to display signs like this. 
 
Hopefully this will reduce the number of accidents and fatalities, however, no matter how much legislation you pass, or instructions you give, “You can’t cure stupid!”


June 2019 column

An immigrant's odyssey

My Armenian grandfather was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey in the 1870s. When he was about 14 years old, the Turks were systematically eliminating the Armenian population by killing off all the men and boys and selling the women into harems (yeah, it really happened, check it out!). 
 
Papa and a friend were hanging around the docks one day when suddenly some Turkish cops approached wanting to “talk” to them. They escaped on foot and after a chase ran up the gangway of an English ship, hoping for sanctuary. The Turks wanted to come and take the boys, but the British captain would not allow them on board. The cops went back for reinforcements and the captain simply cast off the dock lines and put to sea! 
 
In the 1880s there was no such thing as radio or modern patrol boats to chase them. Haik and his friend thanked their rescuers and became part of the crew. They assumed that they were going to England on the “Boyd of London.” To their surprise, they were headed to New York. They were put to work in the galley and peeled so many potatoes that Papa swore he’d never eat one again!
 
The first stop was Gibraltar and the ship’s Purser jumped ship as soon as they docked. The Captain asked Papa if he could do “cyphers” (arithmetic) and he said “of course.” Papa had been educated in a German Military Academy, so he was good at math, and spoke several languages. He gladly left the potato peels and became the new Purser. 
 
When the ship docked in Brooklyn several weeks later, he was listed as “ship’s crew” rather than “immigrant” and thus he never came through Ellis Island. He decided to stay on in New York City. He got a job and became a US Citizen.
 
Men worked six days and got Sunday off back then. Each Sunday, Papa would take a street car out to the shore and hang out at a yacht club in Brooklyn. There happened to be a sunken boat in one of the slips, and someone said “Hey Haik, you want a boat? Get this thing to float and it’s yours.” Taking the challenge, he got his buddies together and raised the old skiff off the bottom!
 
He gradually disassembled the engine and smuggled it piece by piece back to his rooming house in a suitcase. Over the winter he rebuilt the engine. The following summer after work every Saturday, Haik and his crew would motor his boat 15 miles across lower New York Bay and up the Shrewsbury River to camp out on the beach.
 
As they passed by the hills of Highlands, NJ, he would point up to them and tell his friends how they reminded him of his family home on the Bosporus in Constantinople. He said that one day he would own a house on top of the hill with property running all the way down to the river. They all scoffed at him for having such an unattainable dream, but they enjoyed the weekend trips down to the shore.
 
Papa worked in a new science/art called Photo Engraving in its earliest days. In the 1880s this was tantamount to designing computers in the 1960s. He gradually worked his way up and wound up owning the company and starting up several other businesses. Eventually he built his “house on top of the hill with property running all the way down to the river.” This is where my mother was born, and I was raised.
 
Papa died at age 102. He was sitting at his desk giving dictation to his secretary with a cigar in his hand. It slumped down on his lap and his secretary thought he had fallen asleep. She took the cigar out of his hand and realized that he was dead. Papa had outlived three wives. He had five children, and countless grand, great-grand and great-great-grandchildren. He left $25,000 to each of his kids, $5,000 to each of the rest of us and $21 million to the Armenian church! Now this was the 1970s, when $21 million was real money! 
 
When my mother and all her brothers and sisters wanted to contest the will, I asked her, “Mom, how much money you got? The Armenian Church has $21 million to hire the best lawyers in New York, and you want to fight that?” Papa was totally lucid up to the very end and he knew exactly what he was doing. What he left us is in our genes, not in a bank account. I’m just happy to be remembered and all I’ve got to say is “Thank you, Papa.”
 
I think of him often especially when I’m out at sea or on the lake, using the natural motion of the wind and water to get me where I want to go. We all have to play the cards that we’re dealt and make the best of it.


May 2019 column

On the lake, there be dragons!

I love to volunteer. It makes me feel good, and it’s a lot of fun. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll encounter that wouldn’t ordinarily cross your path.
 
One of my regular “gigs” is driving a referee boat or safety boat at the Olympic Rowing Venue in Gainesville. I arrive at 6 a.m. to be out on the water by 6:30, and usually work until after 6 at night. It’s really exciting to be “up close and personal” with all of these Olympic class athletes at their National Championship Qualifying Competition. The boats range from the one-person canoe, kayak or racing shell, to the 40-foot long eight-person shell, which can achieve speeds upward of 15 mph. 
 
The course runs for about three miles up a narrow part of the lake, with eight narrow lanes, sort of like a swim meet but much longer. The lanes are separated by small orange buoys every 20 yards or so. When viewed looking directly down the course as from Clarks Bridge, they look like airplane runway landing lights. It takes a lot of concentration to chase a bunch of boats down the course while maintaining a safe distance and staying in my lane. It’s hard to imagine the concentration required by the rowers and cox’n!
 
The venue itself is set up with bleachers allowing spectators to see the entire race course with the finish line directly in front of them. There are no “bad” seats here.
 
One of the most interesting events I’ve volunteered for are the Dragon Boats. These are 40-foot-long replicas of oriental war canoes decorated in bright colors with a dragon’s head at the bow and tail at the stern. They require a crew of 22, made up of 20 paddlers, one steer’s-person with an oar and a drummer to beat the cadence on a large bass drum.
 
It’s really exciting to see a whole line of these coming down the course neck and neck. You hear the crowd cheering and the drums beating “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM,” faster and faster as they approach the finish line. You could be on a movie set in the South Sea Islands with Clark Gable.
 
Now, a canoe is sort of a tippy boat anyway but try putting 22 people including a drummer in one and add all of the adrenalin of racing! Every once in awhile after a boat crosses the finish line in a really close race, the entire crew will stand up in the winning boat and it will capsize putting everyone in the water! (This is one of the reasons why they are all required to wear life preservers).
 
Dragon boating is purportedly the second largest sport in the world, with events held on all the continents except Antarctica. Last year the Dragon Boat Worlds were held right here in Gainesville. Among this diverse group of athletes are the members of Dragon Boat Atlanta. (Check out dragonboatatlanta.org or on Facebook) These are Breast Cancer Survivors who compete regularly all around the world. Within the past year they have competed in places such as Florence, Italy.
 
The local organization was started several years ago, modeled after other clubs around the country. Their goal is to help women move from merely surviving to thriving through support, friendship, laughter and exercise. They also increase community awareness of breast cancer issues and of the important role of exercise in maximizing quality of life after breast cancer.
 
It seems the exercise you get while paddling is not only beneficial all around, but extremely good for the muscles affected by breast cancer and members of the club have had much lower recurrence of the disease.
 
Its encounters like these that make it so much fun volunteering. Sometimes it is hard work and time consuming, but you never know what interesting people and unexpected adventures you’ll run into.
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