As a civilian on a team of military and military spouses, Mike Weirmier fits in just fine.
The autobody technician has been paddling with the CFB Naden-based Navy Dragon Anchors since 2008.
A perennial favourite, the Navy Dragon Anchors were the top mixed team in the platinum category of the 2012 Victoria Dragon Boat Festival and hope to be among the medal winners again this weekend.
The majority of its 22 paddlers are in the Canadian forces, or are married to someone in the forces, and includes naval officers and submariners.
But it’s a different game in the dragon boat, says Weirmier, a long-time Saanich resident.
“They tend to relax a little bit when paddling. I actually find some of the rankings in the boat fall by the wayside because at work, some of them might not talk to each other in a certain way, but when we’re paddling, everyone’s just teammates.”
Weirmier is a competitive paddler and will join the Gorging Dragons in September when it competes at the world club championships in Italy.
Until then, he’s committed to the Navy Dragon Anchors and their less demanding schedule.
“The Anchors are one of the more fun teams you can be on that doesn’t have to practise six days a week to be at the level we’re at,” Weirmier says.
When it comes to race day, the Navy Dragon Anchors tend to stand out.
While others walk to their boats, the Anchors march, with paddles over their shoulders like rifles, and sing Heart of Oak.
The Navy Dragon Anchors are managed by another Saanichite, Bob Wiggins, retired Chief Petty Officer First Class.
Wiggins joined the team in 2002, one year after it was initiated by former Admiral Ron Buck, to connect with Victoria’s Chinese community.
“We’ve had a lot of turnover in the boat due to the demands of the forces, pulling people away. Often we have members away at sea. Right now we have about 27 on the roster, though there are only 22 in the boat,” Wiggins says.
The mixed division demands a minimum of eight women paddling, which works well for the Navy Dragon Anchors.
“Dragon boating is one of the unique sports where a couple can be on the same team and compete, and we have a lot of couples,” Wiggins says.
The team’s 2014 jersey features submarines in the design to commemorate the 100th anniversary of submarines in the Canadian Navy.
The festival begins on Friday at 1 p.m. with a blessing by Songhees and Esquimalt Nation elders, followed by the traditional eye-dotting ceremony, in which Taoist priests dot the eyes of each dragon boat to awaken them before racing.
Racing begins at 8 a.m. on Saturday, with qualifying teams moving on to the semi-finals at 8 a.m. on Sunday.
Awards will be given to paddlers on Sunday afternoon, followed by a closing Paddlers’ Dance at 4:30 p.m.
Food trucks will be on-site and historic First Nations and Chinese walking tours will take place each afternoon.