July '02 update: It's here! Berkeley's first home ported
dragon boat, berthed on the inside tie of N-dock.

Dragon Boat at Speed (photo credit: Bay Area Dragons)

Dragon Boats and Outriggers in the Berkeley Marina

This is a description of a short-term access solution for the Berkeley Dragons or other dragon boat or outrigger organization. This proposal suggests how a paddling club, team, or youth program could take advantage of the following resources in the Berkeley Marina:
  • off-peak traffic capacity on land and water
  • free dock space normally not accessible to conventional boats
  • the facilities of existing non-profit organizations
Developing a new practice site and building the organization to go with it is often a chicken-and-egg problem: With no berthing facilities, it is impossible to acquire boats. With no boats, membership growth can be difficult. Without a large membership or participant base, it is very difficult to acquire berthing facilities.

The Marina berthing option has the advantage of being available on very short lead time and at very low cost because it uses existing facilities that are not marketable to conventional boats. This could clear the path for an organization to acquire one or more boats and begin a new growth cycle.

In the long term, it is anticipated that a successful dragon boat or outrigger organization would move to its own dedicated facility elsewhere on the waterfront.

Marina Map
This map of the Berkeley Marina is part of the site plan from the Draft Marina Plan and Waterfront Overview (north is to the left). The plan calls for non-motorized boating facilities at two possible locations in the North Sailing Basin. Unfortunately there is currently no plan to fund these facilities.

Meanwhile, the mark-ups in magenta show how a dragon boat or outrigger team, club or youth program could operate inside the Marina.

Even on windy days, there is a straight run of 600 meters of protected water available for practice. During the winter, conditions outside the breakwater are often appropriate for much longer practice runs. The biggest limitation is likely to be interference with weekend Marina traffic, so dragon boat practices would presumably be limited to weekdays and early mornings on weekends.

Outriggers are capable of operating in much rougher water, and with this type of boat there would not be any scheduling restrictions on practices outside the marina.

Six 50 ft. boats are shown rafted two-deep to the inside ties on N-dock. This is far in excess of initial requirements, but it shows how much room there is for in-the-water berthing. Some of these inside ties are designated as "skiff berths," but these have always had a very high rate of vacancy.

Berkeley Yacht Club is also highlighted. BYC might be in a position to provide administrative or organizational support, as well as meeting and social space for the team or club. (BYC might find that support for and partnership with a dragon boat or outrigger program is the best way for the club to meet its community outreach obligations.)

Marina Entrance
The view from just inside the detached rock breakwater, looking into the harbor along the 600 meter east-west axis of the Marina. Traffic is light and the water is smooth on a typical weekday afternoon. The structure on the right is Berkeley Yacht Club.

BYC Guest Dock (looking south)

BYC Guest Dock (looking north-east)
This section of the Berkeley Yacht Club guest dock is 58 feet long. As an inside tie that can only be accessed by water by going under a gangway or under the club dining room, this space will always be available. It could become an in-the-water berth for dragon boats or outrigger canoes. Because this is the BYC guest dock and not a Marina dock, it might be available on much shorter lead time than any other inside tie.

The N-Dock Inside Tie (north half)

The N-Dock Inside Tie (south half)
These veiws of N-dock show several hundred feet of inside tie dock space that has been vacant for years. These docks are further from the yacht club, but have the advantages of easier water access and a security gate.

North Sailing Basin
The North Sailing Basin, looking north from the Meadow. 800 meters of smooth protected water in the lee of Cesar Chavez Park. Although it can be windy in the summer, the water is always smooth and powerboat wakes are virtually unknown.

This could become the permanant venue for a Berkeley Dragon boat program or an outrigger club. The North Sailing Basin offers full scheduling flexibility, so there would be no restriction on summer afternoon or weekend practices in protected water. The location also offers the possibility of onshore storage and maintenance facilities, and dedicated office and meeting space.

It is interesting to note that the Cal Sailing Club followed a similar growth path. CSC originally shared dock space with Berkeley Yacht Club, and then moved to the South Sailing Basin in the early '70s as the size and popularity of the club increased.

It is also interesting to compare some of the costs associated with dragon boats to those associated with playing fields or other recreational facilities. Each boat operates with a crew of 22, so a two-boat program keeps 44 participants fully engaged. There is no playing surface to maintain, no new structure or fences to build, and no real estate to acquire. If there is a club component, then access to volunteers reduces staffing requirements. Professional equipment maintenance is only a few thousand dollars per year.

Start-up cost for equipment is in the $30,000-$50,000 range. This includes two new boats, a powered safety skiff, paddles, lifejackets, and other miscellaneous safety gear. The playing fields at fifth and Harrison - to put this in perspective - cost 2.1 million dollars each to acquire and develop.

Letter to the Mayor, Councilmembers, and Commissioners

Consent Calendar item for the February 19 Council meeting

Consent Calendar item as passed at the February 26 Council meeting

Dragon boat links:

California Dragon Boat Association
Dragon boat racing - 20 paddles, one hull. "The second most popular sport in the world." Currently practicing in Foster City and Lake Merced.

International Dragon Boat Association
IDBA runs an after-school youth program on Lake Merritt and the Oakland Estuary, and produces the annual California International Dragon Boat Festival.

The Dieselfish Dragon Boat Team
Practicing three times a week in Redwood City, and their website has a good page of dragon boat links.

The Cal Juice Dragon Boat Team
Mostly U.C. Berkeley students and alumni. "Because we are lazy, we practice and race only during the summer and early fall."

The Absolute Dragons Team
Practicing at Redwood Shores and Lake Merced. "The loudest, hottest, and most fun-loving young professionals in the Bay Area."

Video Clip of dragon boats
CNN coverage of races in Foster City Lagoon.