Philly dragon boat paddlers finally have a real home on the Schuylkill

    A new dock has been built on the west side of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, specifically designed to be used by dragon boats.

    Dragon boats have been on the river for decades; two summer festivals attract thousands of people every year. But the paddlers had never officially had a home here.

    In 2010, the remnants of Hurricane Irene wiped out a portion of the stone river wall along the Schuylkill, taking with it the public dock dragons boaters had been using. Since then, they have been trying to build a new one.

    On Monday, it finally went in.

    Along Martin Luther King, Jr.Drive, just south of Black Road, a crew secured a sixty-foot, aluminum floating dock to a concrete bulkhead. It was designed and built specifically for dragon boating. Dragon boats are about 10 inches taller than shells used by rowing crews.

    “You can see the dragon boat down there, see how much higher it is out of the water?” said Scott Tihansky, pointing upriver where several dragon boats were beached. The managing member of Innovative Marine Solutions, of Breinigsville, Pa., made and installed the dock. “With a crew team you’ll want about 5 or 6 inches. We’re going have, when this is all said and done, about sixteen.”

    This land is part of Fairmount Park. To broker a deal with the Department of Parks and Recreation, the dragon boaters had to speak with a single voice.

    Four dragon boat teams in Philadelphia formed an association called the Schuylkill Paddlers. In exchange for access to public land, the Schuylkill Paddlers agreed to raise the $40,000 needed to build the dock, and then give it to the city. After 10 years, the teams will have to start paying rent.

    The dock will be able to moor 8 to 10 boats at a time. Participating dragon boat teams will be able to share the boats, instead of owning them individually. The coordination effort by the Schuylkill Paddlers association should reduce the total number of dragon boats moored on the river.

    Unlike lightweight crew shells that are lifted in and out of the water as needed, dragon boats — which can hold 20 paddlers — are far heavier, requiring them to stay in the water the entire paddling season.

    “For me it’s been an important process for the city to recognized as a legitimate sport in the city,” said Emilia Rastrick, president of the Schuylkill Paddlers. “They are invested in developing the sport. It’s essentially a dragon boat dock, and the city has recognized that.”

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