2012-02-22 / Outdoors

There be dragons in these waters

Irony always lends itself to clever event titles, so I’m pleased to tell you about the second annual War on the Peace.

It’s the Peace River in Charlotte Harbor, and the war is a dragon boat festival.

Dragon boat events — once thought of as something you’d see on the Travel Channel — are now well known as competitive paddlesports, thanks to the elevated profile dragon boating got during the last Summer Olympics. Dragon boats are long, slim, open boats in which crew members use single-bladed paddles to drive the boat forward. A large dragonhead is placed on the bow; a drum is used to keep paddlers in rhythm.

It’s a stellar workout and when the boaters get together, events are exciting to watch — more thrilling, I think, than a kayak race or a powerboat race. This isn’t just an elite athletic event. I know plenty of baby boomers who join dragon boat clubs for fitness.

Dragon boat racing is gaining momentum in Southwest Florida, including on the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor as seen here. 
SPECIAL TO FLORIDA WEEKLY Dragon boat racing is gaining momentum in Southwest Florida, including on the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor as seen here. SPECIAL TO FLORIDA WEEKLY Mark your calendar for Saturday, April 14, at Laishley Park in scenic downtown Punta Gorda. The War on the Peace Dragon Boat Festival will run 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., sponsored by the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Charlotte Harbor Paddlers, a local dragon boat club.

Spectators can join in the fun for free. Racers can get info at www.puntagordachamber.com or by e-mailing cathygetz@comcast.net. It’s not too late to create a team or join a dragon boat crew. You just need eight females and a total crew of 20. It’s fast, fun furious and easy for all ages and abilities to join in. Last year, 33 teams crowded the Peace. This year’s event may bring a 40-team spectacle.

In other outdoors news:

Okeechobee Waterway: If you’re a sailor or powerboater who uses the Caloosahatchee to head upstream and across the state, you may have heard about a plan the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering: installation of what it calls a Manatee Protection System at the Moore Haven Lock on the Okeechobee Waterway as part of a Manatee Pass Gates project.

The idea is to keep endangered seacows from injury or death in the locks’ structure. The protection system detects manatees and prevents the gates from closing.

Work will take two months and is tentatively scheduled to begin April 2 at the Moore Haven Lock, when the Corps says traffic conditions and water levels are low. The work consists of dewatering the lock, installing the system to the lock gates and performing qualitative testing to ensure the system operates well.

Message to boaters: During this time, the lock will be temporarily closed.

Wow. High season in these parts is Presidents’ Day Weekend through Easter for tourists, snowbirds and, yes, boaters. I can understand the Corps wanting to get the project completed before rainy season in June, but they should wait till after April 8 and the Easter holiday weekend.

Maybe level heads will prevail.

Want more info? Go to www.saj.usace.army.mil and choose the Operations Division tab and selecting Notices to Navigation from the pull down menu. Or contact the project manager Alan Bruns at (904) 232-2084 or Alan.C.Bruns@usace.army.mil.

Grouper season: We’re in the middle of the time when you shouldn’t keep any grouper. There’s a two-month recreational harvest closer of all eight grouper species — the kind people call shallow-water grouper.

Gag grouper spawn in February and March, so the state limits catches of all the grouper generally fished for in the same waters so as to reduce the number of gag grouper that are caught unintentionally and die after being released.

Grouper is almost the signature eating fish of Southwest Florida for tourists, and visitors who head out and catch their own have more than fish stories to tell. Alas, no one should be bringing white fillets on shore till the season reopens. Come April Fool’s Day, a lucky angler won’t be someone’s fool.

Get grouper fishing regulations at www.myfwc.com/fishing. ¦

— Betsy Clayton is a freelancer based on Pine Island and also is Lee County Parks & Recreation’s waterways coordinator. Contact her at boatingbybetsy@yahoo.com.

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