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Update from France

A paddling marathon to add to the wish list for 2021.

Since all events were stopped for more than a year - and the situation is far from improving there has been little contact with other French teams - and it is difficult to imagine new teams forming up in these days.

In Annecy we are still not allowed to paddle although in some other locations dragon boat activity is allowed for BC paddlers. Once the summer months come, we hope that there will be more activity.

Genevieve tells us that in conjunction with Dragon Boat Attitude, her team is organising for the third time, a 4-day trip down the Allier and the Loire Rivers for 32 BC paddlers in August 2021 (if sanitary condition allows it). The last event in 2019 was very successful and they had paddlers from Italy, Ireland and Australia in addition to France. They would like you to consider this possibility and you will find some detail below and further information on the website of Dragon Boat Attitude:

Details below from Sylvain Munier, Dragon Boat Attitude

We want to talk to you about a project we have been running in France since 2018: The United Ladies. This event is usually organized at the beginning of August on the Loire River and dedicated to BCS, this event -which we prefer to call "adventure"- takes place over 4 days during which the participants have the challenge to paddle 200kms together. We wanted these 4 days to be immersed in nature; accommodation is therefore in a bivouac, by the edge of the river, over the 3 nights of the navigations. During the two editions that we have already organized, the beautiful encounters, the exchanges and the emulsion between the participants has made us realize that the human aspect was also one of the strong points of this adventure in which French, Irish, English, Italian and Australian women have already participated.

Please find here the video trailer for the next 2021 adventure:

We are adding here an article from an attendee at the Loire River paddle, it is really fantastic and will make you feel every moment of the journey. UNITED LADIES FOREVER by Margaret Keech

As I sit in Bendigo Victoria, after what can only be described as a tumultuous year, I am healthy and relatively safe in a regional area of Australia. We were unable to paddle from March through to October in 2020 and only then with restrictions. My mind often took me to what I was doing the same time as lockdown 12 months before in 2019, when I was preparing for the event of a lifetime – to Dragonboat 250km along the Loire River in France. How things changed in a year!

Along with 32 ladies, a mixture of Breast Cancer survivors and supporters from all over France, plus two from Ireland, one from Italy and three from Bendigo in Australia, we were to paddle 250 km from Orleans to Pont de Ce (near Angers).

The event was first run in 2018 when a doctor involved with Dragon Boat Attitude in Annecy, France, thought a marathon paddle of this sort would be a show of strength, resilience and camaraderie for Breast cancer survivors. The ladies were given the name United Ladies and the event was born.

My friends from Bendigo in Central Victoria in Regional Australia, Karen, Annie and I saw the video of the 2018 event and were hooked. We applied for the 2019 event. We were given a training program and tried to get as much paddling in as we could on our little local lake (which is only 500m long!)

We met in Orleans on Wednesday 7th August, 2019, ready to go, but there was one wrinkle to start with. The Loire River was, due to drought conditions, the lowest it had been for 150 years. It was deemed unsafe for the Dragon boats. Rather than cancel the trip it was decided by the organisers, Dragon Boat Attitude, for the group to paddle in C9 canoes instead. They have a similar set up to a 10s Dragon boat but a flat bottom. We still paddled with dragon boat paddles and had a sweep to steer the boats, so it was pretty much the same.

And so, we set off the next morning, 4 boats of happy ladies united in their cause to paddle 250 km on one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe. It was a sunny and hot day, but we soon discovered that although the set up in the canoe was similar to the dragon boat, the seats are set much lower and it made paddling quite different especially for the taller women (of which I was one), my lower back was now complaining big time.

Each day we stopped for lunch on the riverbank or a park in a pretty town - one day met by the mayor with pastries and champagne! Each evening we camped in tents on the riverbank, surrounded by birds and breathtaking views.

The days were spent zigzagging across the river to gain the best water for paddling due to the low water levels, on a number of occasions needing to hop out and push the boat across sand banks and river stones. In fact, the two front paddlers were not only the strokes but also the “jumpers”, as they were the ones that were expected to jump out of the boat first and pull if we ran aground. The whole crew only got out if we really got stuck, which we did quite often even in the canoes. There was no way a Dragon boat would have made it. We paddled through beautiful towns such as Blois & Tours, past Chateaux and houses and sandbanks filled with birds - swans, geese, seagulls and so many more. It was breathtaking.

We paddled through a rain storm so hard it stung the face, waves that nearly swamped the boats, and rapids where the water flowed fast and often low over rocks which certainly tested the resolve. One of the boats foundered on one set of rapids and the crew was tipped out, we all stopped to help and secure the boat. One paddler was injured but she was a survivor and tough and with love and support, soldiered on. Some even did Tai Chi in the water while waiting for the boat to be checked.

We were so tired when we arrived at our riverbank campsite each night, but a great dinner cooked by our wonderful support crew soon had us singing and chatting and making friends by the riverbank. I had taken Dragons Abreast Australia pins to give to the paddlers along with Bendigo City pins, so this gave me a chance to hand them around to all the paddlers and the support crew. They all loved them and kept showing me they were wearing them throughout the rest of the trip.

By halfway, not only were backs and shoulders complaining, our backsides were screaming!! On day 3 after trying different types of padded seats, we decided the best course of action was to sit on our inflatable camp pillows while paddling, a great idea which did help. It was a bit wobbly though.

Our campsite the final night was at an actual campground and not only were we again welcomed by the mayor of the town – Chouze-le-Loire, we again were treated to cheese pastries but alas no champagne this time. We did, however, get to have our first shower since we started – bliss.

That night we sat companionably and chatted (as well as we could considering 5 in the group spoke English as a first language and some of the group spoke none at all – much like our French !!) In a circle with all paddlers and support staff we talked of our reasons for being on the trip and what we all gained – there was a resounding union of friendship and love amongst all there. Claire, who accompanied the group as videographer entertained us all with a song, she had specially written and played on her guitar. It was a lovely evening of friendship and love, and language was no barrier to the friendships, especially for the survivors.

The next morning, we woke to freshly made croissants delivered at sunrise from a local bakery! Yum!!

Our final destination of Pont -de -Ce was reached later in the afternoon on the 4th day of paddling. We had made it! 250km from Orleans to Angers!

We had paddled past the most wonderful scenery, Chateaux and towns, under bridges of stone that were built hundreds of years ago and been accompanied by birds of all descriptions. We had sung songs along the way, pushed boats over the sand and rocks, and been drenched in a massive storm.

We had sore backs, shoulders, backsides and hands.

But we had done it! We were true survivors and had made lifelong friendships in the meantime!!