By Alex Petroski
Like a scene from a popular HBO show, Port Jefferson was overrun with dragons for as far as the eye could see Sept. 16. The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its fourth Dragon Boat Race Festival at Harborfront Park and in Port Jefferson Harbor Saturday. The annual event features boat races, food, vendors, traditional Chinese ceremonies and customs, and musical performances.
This year 30 dragon boat teams competed in a recreational division, and four club teams squared off on the open seas in a more competitive one. Teams consisted of 20 rowers, one steersman and one drummer for the races around the inner harbor. The festival is the brainchild of Barbara Ransome, director of operations at the chamber, who said she got her inspiration after she attended a dragon boat race festival in Cape May, New Jersey, a few years back.
“We’ve got it down from an organizational perspective,” Ransome said in a phone interview after the event. “Everything went very well and very smooth.”
Ransome said she thought this year yielded larger attendance numbers — she speculated several thousand — than previous years, and said she is happy the event is growing. She said about 140 people utilized a free shuttle service provided to take attendees from their cars to the park, which was about 40 percent more than during last year’s event.
In the recreational group, a team from the Long Island School of Chinese called Huaxia Dragon took home the gold with a time of 58.06 seconds, narrowly edging Seas the Day, a team of rowers from St. Charles Hospital, who finished in 58.10 to capture silver. A New York City-area rowing club called The Collective won gold in the club division with a time of 58.27 in the final heat. The New York City Police Department rowing club came in second, finishing just two-tenths of a second behind The Collective.
Ransome said upon request from teams that competed in 2016, this was the first year racers were separated into groups based on experience levels, and she thought it was a good decision.
Port Jefferson Dragons, a Port Jefferson Village team, prepared extensively for the 2017 race, according to Ransome, so the group was bumped up as the fourth team in the club division. As a modest underdog, Port Jefferson Dragons got on the podium with a third-place finish.
“That was very impressive,” she said. “They did extraordinarily well.”
The Confucius Institute at Stony Brook University, an educational partnership between the school and China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International, was once again a sponsor of the event. According to a staff member at the institute, its directors were pleased with the event.
“We basically support any cultural events in the area that promotes Chinese culture, so it makes sense,” the staff member said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sent Assistant Director of Constituencies for Asian American Affairs Joanne Choi to the event as a representative on his behalf. Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Village Mayor Margot Garant were among the other elected officials also in attendance.
A maximum occupancy restriction was placed on the village-owned pier for the event, which has been found to need repairs following the 2016 race. Ransome said the guidelines were strictly adhered to, and actually made the event easier for timekeepers and organizers.