GWN Florida Camp Journal: Day 6 (April 14) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Andrew Simpson   
Thursday, 19 April 2012 19:45

Race day. The morning’s good news was that Geoff felt well enough to accompany us to the race. The bad was overcast sky, cool temps and high winds—which felt vaguely like…home, dammit! At 6:30am we piled onto the comfortable bus provided by GWN for the ride to Lake Dora, 45 minutes northwest of Orlando. Our driver proudly announced that we were on the bus that carries the Florida Gators college football team. I think he expected a bigger reaction. But Canadians (or those who do dragon boat, at least) may not fully appreciate how big college football is in Florida. To give you an idea, the Gators played an offseason inter-squad game on April 9 that was locally televised and played in front of 53,000 spectators. Yeah, THAT big.

Tavares is the seat of Florida’s Lake County and the things you notice entering town are the courthouse, jail and the healthy selection of bail bondsmen. But Tavares bills itself as “America’s Seaplane City” and while we only saw a few seaplanes I think the local Chamber of Commerce made the right call hanging their hat on seaplanes instead of bail bonds. Wooton Park is an attractive venue for a race and the whole thing was well-organized by local Rotarians. There was a steady stream of entertainment in the main tent and a solid selection of vendors. We’ve learned to expect bad food at events of this size back home, but I thought the food here was particularly was well done (especially the wood-fired pizza oven on wheels!) Americans generally seem to do outdoor eats better and with more enthusiasm than we do in Canada. Maybe it’s the tailgate culture? Or maybe our long winters put us at a disadvantage. Regardless, I do find it weird that a culture that created slow-food delights like bbq brisket and pulled pork also came up with something as appalling as spray cheese. But don’t worry America, the unmatched goodness of your brisket and pulled pork makes up for a whole lot. And Health Canada still doesn’t allow spray cheese in Canada, so I guess that gives us both something to feel superior about ...but I digress, a lot.

The feature attraction in Tavares was this fantastic amusement park-style log ride that bounced you up, down, side-to-side and left you completely soaked.  Among the theme park log rides I’ve experienced this one was unique in that we were herded through multi-phase staging areas and issued PFDs and paddles—at which point it became obvious that we were expected to provide our own propulsion. Unfortunately this realization came at about the time we got on a loading ramp and there was no opportunity to turn back without considerable loss of face. Each log was supervised by a pair of carnies (oddly cleancut and clad in athletic wear) who shouted all kinds of inaudible commands throughout the ride. We got bounced around, drenched, shouted at (inaudibly) and drenched again. And near the end of our first ride we nearly collided with a pontoon boat that had drifted into our path—which it turned out was not in fact our path, or not our assigned path anyway. But who's keeping score when you're enjoying a log ride?

In other words, strong headwinds were pushing sizeable rollers across the race course at about 45 degrees and the primary objective for the day quickly became staying afloat. Planning for our final race we'd decided to go out with 18 paddlers (increasing freeboard) and two paddlers in the lowest part of the engine room ready to stop paddling and bail if needed. I think we had a winning strategy but as we sat dockside loading for the race we watched a boat in the C final swamp and flip at about the 250m mark, then another at about 480m and the winning boat crossed the finish line and swamped as soon they stopped paddling (that was our camp friend Robert’s team, the Leathernecks from The Villages). Ultimately all four boats in the C final swamped and/or flipped and there were 80+ people in the water. Game. Set. Match. Lake Dora.

We were disappointed not have the chance to race our final, but nobody could argue with the decision to pull the plug.  I’m pleased to report that members GWN-PM “killed it” on the dance floor before the awards ceremony—and we’ll all be able to say we knew Anthony before his imminent breakout as a triple-threat TV entertainer. Thanks to GWN for providing refreshments for our return bus trip to Orlando.

My public photo album for days 5 & 6 is here.



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