The Maumee River near downtown Toledo was an ideal spot for family fun yesterday - all for a good cause.
Thousands of area residents lined up along the river to cheer on their favorite teams which were rowing colorful, exotic Chinese dragon boats to the beat of drums during the sixth annual Great Maumee River Dragon Boat Festival.
"It's fun to watch the various teams and how they coordinate in the water - or don't," said Andrea Philo of West Toledo, who was watching the 40-foot Hong Kong-style boats with her family near the starting point of the 500-meter course.
Others had a unique view of the more than 1,000 participants and 39 dragon boats skimming through the water as they watched from aboard the U.S. Brig Niagara, the reconstructed War of 1812 vessel that's visiting Toledo this weekend.
Proceeds from Niagara tours will go to the S.S. Willis B. Boyer Museum Ship in International Park. The ship sailed for her maiden voyage from the same spot where she sits today across from downtown Toledo.
The dragon boat event, presented by BP with extra support from the Toledo Rowing Club, raises money for a local cause as well.
About $50,000 in proceeds from yesterday's event is expected to go to Partners in Education of Toledo, a nonprofit group that promotes partnerships between Toledo urban public and parochial schools and businesses, government agencies, organizations, and churches.
While propelling themselves through the course that started across from the Owens Corning World Headquarters near the Niagara and ended near the lagoon in International Park, it was definitely best for the 20 paddlers seated in pairs in each boat to row in sync to the beat of a drummer - and to stay in the boat.
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Toledo firefighters learned that the hard way in the second of their three heats of the day, when their boat capsized and everyone on board was flung into the cold water. While it was a refreshing break from the heat, they were disappointed they couldn't finish the race because they had been out in front of the other boats.
"Honestly, I have no idea what happened," said firefighter Allison Materni, captain of the firefighters' dragon boat team, the "Blazing Paddles."
Her teammates, however, offered several reasons for the mishap: The team was attempting to avoid an endangered shark in the water, the Niagara fired a cannon at them, or rowers on just one side of the boat had one too many Red Bull energy drinks. And in the true, good-natured competitive spirit, one firefighter even joked that the police officers' team, the "Row Patrol," must have sabotaged their boat.
If that were true, it would have been in retaliation for the firefighters' divers who could have gone underneath the officers' boat for some mischief of their own, said Toledo police Officer Michelle Sterling, captain of her team, as she laughed. But their boat must have been fine because Toledo police finished third in the final race of the top division.
St. John's Jesuit High School's team, "the Rowing Titans," sponsored by KeyBank, finished first with a time of 2 minutes, 7.7 seconds. Second place was given to BP's "Ricochet Rowdies," who lost first place by a tenth of a second.
Though they didn't win the competition, the "Fifth Third Navigators" team from Fifth Third Bank was proud to take home the prize for the best-dressed team.
"We came, we saw, we didn't conquer, but we looked the best," said Eva McQuillen, a portfolio manager whose teammates were outfitted in casual white T-shirts and business ties. "We're classy. This is something to be proud of."
Throughout the day, it wasn't unusual to see dragon boat participants and their families walking to and from the Niagara, the double-masted, square-rigged ship based in Erie, Pa. The ship honors the one that won control of Lake Erie for the United States, eventually enabling Gen. William Henry Harrison to invade Canada and end the War of 1812 in the Northwest.
By 2:15 p.m. more than 1,340 people had boarded the ship and taken tours, crew members said.
"We like to experience the history instead of reading about it in books," said Pete Shawaker of Toledo, who took a tour with his wife, Elizabeth, and their three children. "It brings it alive, especially this [ship], because it's part of this area's history."
The ship's crew will continue giving tours today from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and children over 12 and $5 for children aged 6-12. Children aged 6 and under with an adult enter free.
The Boyer will be open during the same hours as the Niagara. Admission is $3 if it is toured in the same day as the Niagara.
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