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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Oriental Dragon Boats

[Dragon Boat Racing By Yolks on Deviant Art]

After producing a blog on the Viking Dragon longboats, it only seemed reasonable that should also do a posting for the also well-known Dragon boats of the Orient. These practically also include the similar Naga boats of South Asia and Indonesia. In many parts of the Orient, Dragon-boat races are the high point of annual celebrations. There are also Naga (Snakeship) races in South India.

A plan for making a Dragon boat model for a small boat of ten paddlers or so. This drawing is better for showing the figurehead end of the assembly. Traditionally such craft are steered by an oar in the back end. The drum is shown most prominently here.

Dragon boats are usually canoes that are paddled and not rowed, with the major distinction being that paddlers face front and can see where they are going while oarsmen face to the stern of their ships. Dragon boats are typically from 50 to 100 feet long and can be as much as six feet wide, and they typically have about twenty paddlers per boat in a boat race. Modern competetive Dragon rboat races can have 40 to 50 paddlers. They can also have the same sort of high figureheads but these can be removed, but more usually the dragon figurehead is held low and pointed straight ahead. This is perhaps more natural because the Water-dragons themselves must travel at speed with the head and neck down and pointed straight ahead. Dragon boats also usually have a drum with a drummer strategically placed to provide motivation and rhythm.

The traditional Dragon-Figurehead on a Dragon boat would be about the same size as the dragon's head on a Viking longship, about two to three feet, but most competetive racing boats any more have much reduced heads, at a minimum size to streamline the craft. the forward portion holding the figurehead could easily be 6 to 12 feet traditionally, so the absolute size of the figurehead is close to the absolute size of the Viking longboat figurehead, but only just the last end part of it. A Longneck with a head and forepart of the neck (foreward of the heavier base) could be in the range of fifty feet long and six feet wide, and so the idea seems to have been that the size of the canoe was indeed traditionally meant to indicate the approximate dimension of the Dragon itself (A statement to this effect is made in Burma at least.)

One feature of the figureheads for both the Dragon boat and Naga boat figureheads is that often there is an indication of foreflippers (or wings) at the base of the neck in the representation.

[Dragon Boat Racing, photo from Wikipedia]

Child riding a Naga as a boat from Indonesia, traditional artwork on sale over the internet, and a Naga Boat (comparable to a Chinese Dragon boat) below it.

These Nagaboats also tend to have the figurehead about the same dimensions as a Viking Longboat but with the neck lying down
As mentioned, this is likely the Longneck's ordinary position when swimming and especially when swimming at speed. So that part makes sense. Also from compiling statistics about the necks of Longnecks and figuring out how they must work, there are basically three sections to a Longneck's neck: the front part is thinnest and most flexible, the rear part is thickest and least flexible and used to back up the forepart of the neck when swimming, in reaction to the water pressure; while the middle part is intermediate between the front and the back. The Dragon boats and Naga boats do not only show the three sections properly in right relationships to one another, they very frequently scale out at the right absolute size to match the reports. Once again, this does not necessarily extend to modern competetive racing boats, where the Dragon head may be reduced to the minimum possible size.

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