Team Neverland dominate early on at MK Dragon Boat Festival

It was 7.40am on Sunday 28th June 2009 when we arrived at Willen Lake in Milton Keynes to claim space for our gazebo at the Milton Keynes Dragon Boat Race. Although we were only 30 feet away from the water’s edge, the lake was hidden by a carpet of fog. Was the day going to be wet and miserable? Were we going to be cast aside humiliated in our attempts to master this ancient Chinese sport? How would the day unfurl?

By 8.30am the Neverland team began arriving en masse. The crew manager’s meeting was scheduled for 8.45am, but was delayed due to the late arrivals of several teams, which meant that the first race scheduled for 9.30am, of which team Neverland was a part, was delayed by 20 minutes. These were nervous times, whilst the Neverland team attempted to focus and prepare itself for battle with teams from SIS Live, Santander Abbey and others. The team did however manage to keep that focus and were well prepared when they stepped into the dragon boat for the first time in a competitive arena.
Having received a briefing from an expert in the art of racing Dragon Boats, team  Neverland felt confident that they could in fact manage to finish the race with at least one or possibly two other boats behind them. But were they over confident?
As the team ran through their warm up routines and final preparations the sun pushed its way through the thick morning cloud cover to reveal that once the clouds burned away we were in for a scorching hot day. The team realised that they must take advantage of this cooler part of the day. They were more determined than ever before.
The race started. From the first set of strokes team Neverland edged ahead. Falling quickly into the pattern that their manager described only moments earlier, team Neverland seemingly absorbed those instructions and pressed ahead of the rest of the field. By half way other boats were gaining ground and the spectators were wild with anticipation of a photo finish in the very first race.
The Neverland team drummer whipped the team into a final push for the line and the crewmen duly responded with unison paddling to rhythmic chanting. Two metres from the line and it was very close between three boats. The drummer kept her cool, the paddlers remained calm and focused and team Neverland powered through the finish line in first place.
Our time of 67 seconds remained the fastest time of the day, for approximately 10 minutes, until the next set of boats were in the water, however this did not deter the euphoria that was being experienced by team Neverland who revelled in their own dominance of this sport.
However, the euphoria seemingly distracted the team and distorted the focus. Race two, some 2 hours and, probably more relevant, several beers later, was a different story. The team overshot the start line in their approach and were ordered to retreat by the starter. As the claxon signalled the start of the race, team Neverland was in fact actually going backwards. Whilst it was only for a split second until the strength of 16 paddles in the water powered the team in the right direction, that split second cost the team dearly.  The team started from the back and pretty much stayed there for the majority of the race, finishing in a time some 7 seconds adrift of our first performance.
This second race effort caused dissension in the ranks of the Neverland team, resulting in calls for the elite first team to be reinstated, even though by the end of heat one, once all 60 teams had completed their first race, our dominating time was in fact sitting in the bottom half of the scoreboard. This did not deter the Neverland team who were confident that this once conquering team could win once again.
In fact a compromise was reached. The majority of the first team was to form the final crew, with only a few movements. Was it to be enough? Could we motor home in a time to make the semi finals? The tension surrounding the last race was unbearable.
Team Neverland took to the water and paddled confidently to the starting line. The claxon sounded and this time the first motion of the Neverland boat was forwards. The problem was that it was just not going forward as quickly as the other boats. This did not deter the team. The Neverland drummer maintained the fast opening stroke pattern in an attempt to regain the ground that had already been lost. By half way, it was clear that the other boats were far stronger than the Neverland boat, but this did not necessarily matter as the semi finals were calculated on timings and not positions. Team Neverland continued in their attempt and crossed the line. The anticipation was once again apparent in those watching the scoreboard as the times were being added.
The Neverland team had completed its final race in 72 seconds, which placed it some 6 seconds adrift of the cut off qualifying time. The Neverland racing was over for the day.
Whilst we did not excel in the racing, we did win one heat and we did not come last. At the time of writing this we are not quite sure where we finished, but we are confident it was not last, not least because one team did not turn up!
The day was great fun, the weather was excellent and the event was superbly organised by Gable Events.
A big thank you from both Neves Solicitors and Landers Accountants to all of you who came along to support team Neverland and to all of you who generously sponsored us.
If you have not yet had a chance to sponsor us, our just giving webpage will remain open for a little while after the event and you can therefore donate to the excellent cause of the Keech Cottage Children’s Hospice by clicking on the following link