Boy Scouts Beyond The Seas
A Dragon Boat Race One day we went for a trip in a steam yacht to see the neighbouring island to Hong Kong.
This is also part of that possession of ours, although as yet there is only one Briton living on it-the Superintendent of Police – the inhabitants being all Chinese.
We visited a delightful little fishing village with a beautiful natural harbour in a nice sandy bay surrounded by mountains. Here they were having an annual holiday festival, to which thousands of junks and sampans from the neighbouring islands and coast had brought crowds to be present.
The programme included a theatrical performance in a huge thatched theatre built for the occasion, big dinners off roast pig, and a Dragon Boat race.
A Dragon Boat is a very long, narrow boat, almost like a racing eight-oar in England, only much larger, because it has to carry thirty pairs of paddlers instead of eight oarsmen.
The bow of the boat is decorated with a golden dragon’s head, and the stern shows his highly- coloured prickly tail.
Near the centre of the boat are a big drum and two men-one of whom is the captain of the boat – who beat on it the time for the paddlers, while another man with a gong helps them.
The junks in the bay were anchored in a dense mass, but a lane had been left between them about half a mile long. This was the race-course.
Our steamer was the starting-place and winning-post. The boats lined up close alongside, their crews all stripped to the waist. At the blast of our steam whistle, away they went, drums booming and paddles swinging in exact time.
The boats literally rushed through the water at a tremendous pace, amid the cheers and yells of the spectators crowded on the junks. On and on they went, straight for the shore, where a huge blue-clad crowd awaited them, yelling and dancing with excitement.
Both boats ran up on the beach, then at a word every man jumped round in his seat and started to paddle the boat backward up the same course again.
As they came nearer and nearer it was evident that one boat was a little bit behind the other. Then apparently it began to steer badly and inclined across the course in such a way that it looked like running into the other boat, which was gradually forging ahead of it. But this did not cause the men to ease paddling – they went at it with all the greater fury.
Then it became clear that they meant to run down the winning boat.
The drums of both quickened the stroke, both crews were straining their strength to the utmost, the onlookers were yelling with excitement.
Nearer and nearer they got to each other, their paddles got together, and the losing boat’s stern (she was going stern foremost, you remember) crashed into the side of her adversary, but without doing anything worse than breaking off her own dragon’s tail.
Neither boat slackened its efforts; on and on they struggled, side by side, till after a very exciting race they crossed the line, one boat half a length ahead of the other.
So game had been the struggle that after handing the prize to the winning boat we called up the second to receive a consolation prize.
We found that the collision had been done on purpose; it was the usual thing for the losing boat to try to stop the leading boat’s paddles for a few seconds, and then in the confusion to try to push forward and thus regain a few yards. But in this case it did not pay.