Drizzle doesn’t douse dragon boat fire

Raindrops weren’t a deterrent for the 32 teams participating in the eighth annual Saint Martin’s University Dragon Boat Festival races Saturday at Budd Inlet.

More than 700 paddlers representing teams ranging from Seattle to Portland were there to cheer each other on from the Port Plaza.

As each wave of newly finished racers returned to the docks, teams on deck welcomed them back with appreciative rounds of applause.

“In spite of the little sprinkles, we are feeling it’s been a great turnout,” said event director Brenda Burns. “We had a great turnout this morning, a great community start to the day.”

For one Portland-based paddler, the salt water was a surprise. Members of Portland Community College’s Zen Dragons are used to honing their skills in the fresh water of the Willamette River.

“It’s cold and salty,” said Ronnie Dempsey. “I wasn’t expecting a great big splash of salt water.”

It was her first time paddling in Puget Sound.

Dempsey and her teammate Nicolas Petersen finished two races before 1 p.m., and were psyching up for the final heat. Their young team was last in the first race, but placed third in the second round.

“We are mostly newbies this year,” said Petersen, who started racing two years ago. “They are doing really good for their first race.”

Another team from Portland, the Pink Phoenix, has been together for 16 years. The group has members ranging in age from 32 to 94 — all of them breast cancer survivors.

“We are offering hope to other women who are working through breast cancer,” said team member Anne Ashburn of Vancouver.

For her teammate Christine Parker of Portland, Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of her mastectomy.

“We are showing there is life after breast cancer,” Parker said. “It’s the best support group you can get.”