It may be the Year of the Pig by the Chinese calendar, but dragons will soon be taking center stage in a celebration at the Jeanne Garant Harborfront Park in Port Jefferson.
The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce will host its free “6th Annual Dragon Boat Festival” on Saturday, Sept. 14 from 8 a.m to 6 p.m. - an all-day event including three racing heats during which 29 teams compete in a 250-meter, three-lane racing course.
Racing of long boats powered by paddlers is a popular tradition dating back more than 2,500 years in southern central China in commemoration of Qu Yuan, a government minister. According to legend he was slandered by jealous officials and drowned himself in the Miluo river, an occasion that was marked annually with dragon boat races and festivals that include eating and drinking.
The idea to bring a dragon boat festival to Port Jefferson was that of director of operations for the local chamber of commerce, Barbara Ransome, after she saw the races nearly a decade ago on vacation at the Jersey shore.
“It was held on the Cape May harbor and I thought our harbor would lend itself to this event because it dumps into our commercial district,” Ransome says. The rain or shine festival is a “huge undertaking” that requires a lot of planning for organizers and a lot of practice and skill for participants to be successful.
“It involves a 30-foot canoe,” Ransome says of the racing. “It’s all about being in sync.”
WHAT YOU'LL SEE
Dragon boat festivals, which have gone global, are also about pageantry - and the races at Port Jefferson will definitely have its share.
Pan-Asian music, songs and dance performances will be featured and opening ceremonies will include an Asian color guard, the blessing of the “fleet” with the traditional “Eye Dotting Ceremony” and monk blessing. Boating team medals will be awarded in a closing ceremony.
“The Dragon boat race helps put Port Jefferson on the map as a destination where all the participants enjoy an event that, while competitive, brings out the best for all to enjoy,” says Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant. The harborfront park is named after her mother, Jeanne Garant, a former mayor of the village.
Ransome says the Tampa, Fla.-based High Five Dragon Boat company provides the boats and equipment, and organizes the water portion of the festival, which has a host of sponsors.
Festivities include cultural and educational vendors, retail and food vendors, plus crafts for children.
Each team is made up of 20 paddlers, one steersman and a drummer, and this year will be the first time that the best drumming performance will be judged. Teams will include staff from local hospitals, members of the Port Jefferson ambulance corps and the Suffolk County Police department as well as teams formed by local banks, hospitals and fraternities.
There will be different “tiers” of competitiveness for those in the races, which Ransome says ranges from people who had never been in a boat before they joined the competition to teams that are more experienced and have practiced “all summer.”
Port Jefferson Dragon Boat Race Festival
WHEN|WHERE 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 at Jeanne Garant Harbor Front Park, 101-A East Broadway Village Center, Port Jefferson
INFO 631-473-1414, portjeffdragonboatracefest.com
ADMISSION Free for spectators