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Dragon boats invade Budd Inlet

The Wasabi Kraken team from Cleveland High School in Portland races to victory Saturday in the preliminary heat at the Dragon Boat Festival near the Olympia Port Plaza.
The Wasabi Kraken team from Cleveland High School in Portland races to victory Saturday in the preliminary heat at the Dragon Boat Festival near the Olympia Port Plaza. The Olympian

OLYMPIA - Saturday was a busy day on Budd Inlet as 32 boats with dragon heads and colorful tails raced across the water as part of the Dragon Boat Festival, hosted by Saint Martin's University.

The event, in its sixth year, continues to grow in popularity, with eight more boats this year than last, festival co-organizer Sarah Younkin said. It started with 13 boats, she said. It also used to take place on Capitol Lake, but this was the second year for the event on Budd Inlet, near the Port Plaza.

The festival moved because the lake has been infested with New Zealand mudsnails, she said.

The boats are about 42 feet long and have teams of about 22 people, including one person astern at the tiller and another person at the bow – the caller – to urge the team on. Men and women of all ages participate in the races, and the festival attracts boat teams from throughout the Northwest.

Saturday also was the opening day for the Olympia Yacht Club, so in addition to the festival, a steady stream of boats passed by the racers as well. Two patrol boats also were on hand in case one of the dragon boats capsized. That has happened at past races, but no one took a dunking Saturday.

Club Sake, a Seattle-based dragon boat club that practices on Lake Washington, had three teams at Saturday’s races, including Absolut Sake, the defending champion. Co-captain Steve Yin said Absolut Sake practices once or twice a week. He enjoys racing because it’s a sport anyone can do, Yin said. The trick to winning is getting everyone in sync with their paddles and taking a mind-over-matter approach.

“The mind will give up before your body does,” he said.

Survivor Sake of Seattle, another team at Saturday’s races and also part of Club Sake, is made up of women who have survived cancer, team member Cheryl St. Paul said. St. Paul, who had breast cancer, has been cancer-free for six years, she said.

“You don’t have to try out, and you can come as you are,” co-captain Karen Schneider said about Survivor Sake. “It’s all about participating.”

In addition to Seattle, teams came from Portland, Tacoma, Saint Martin’s, the City of Olympia, the City of Tumwater, Intercity Transit and the Squaxin Island Tribe.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

rboone@theolympian.com

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