In 2014, the local nonprofit Fuse Project introduced Dragon Boat racing as a fundraiser. Now, just three years later, it has grown into one of the largest Hong Kong-style boat festivals in the United States.
The third annual event is set for Saturday, June 11. After calling the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center home for previous races, the competition is floating down the Causeway to the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.
“As we suspected, the move to the battleship has certainly allowed us to increase participation, from 41 teams last year to 72 teams for this year’s festival,” Adrienne Golden, Fuse Project executive director, said. “And we are thankful for all of the continued support we are receiving from our volunteers, teams and sponsors.”
Seventy-two is the maximum number of teams the Fuse Project can accommodate for the one-day festival. Each team consists of 20 paddlers, a drummer and an experienced person to steer. The 46-foot-long boats race for 250 meters.
“If additional teams would like to participate in the festival, we will allow them to register as an alternate for race day,” Golden said. “Therefore, if a previously registered team decides to drop out, we will allow the alternate team to step up and take their place.”
Since forming in 2012, the Fuse Project has raised more than $300,000 to support numerous causes promoting health, fitness, education and social responsibility of children in Mobile and Baldwin counties. This year, the group plans to refine its focus on projects that center on after-school programs for children along the Alabama Gulf Coast.
“Our goal is to ensure that all kids have access to an after-school program that increases their overall quality of life, and to foster a healthy family dynamic for the working parents and their children,” Grant Zarzour, Fuse Project co-founder and chairman, said. After reaching $151,000 in 2015, the Fuse Project aims to raise more than $200,000 this year.
On May 24, the Fuse Project hosted an award ceremony to honor 26 students who completed the After-School Initiative at Pillans Middle School. The project helped these Mobile County Public School System students who were experiencing difficulty in adjusting to the structure of a normal school day. The program helped 23 students at Scarborough Middle School the previous year.
“We are thrilled at the success of the After-School Initiative,” Golden said. “Fuse Project invests in specific projects that directly impact children’s lives, and this is a prime example. We are excited to announce that we are finalizing our plans to fund this program at a Baldwin County middle school for the 2016-2017 school year with the funds raised by this year’s Dragon Boat Festival.”
Golden points out the Dragon Boat Festival is a family-friendly, alcohol-free event. There will be food trucks, a petting zoo, pony rides, a trackless train, a gyro gym and inflatable jumpers for children, along with the usual exhibits at the battleship.
“We are planning to have daytime fireworks as our ‘wow’ event on race day,” Golden said. “We are expecting 7,500 people to come out to our event that Saturday.”
Children’s Cup Regatta set
The seventh annual Children’s tCup Regatta is also scheduled for Saturday, June 11. The event, which takes place at Fairhope Yacht Club, will benefit Gulf Coast patients who are treated at Children’s of Alabama pediatric hospital in Birmingham.
A new addition to this year’s lineup is kayak races. A 1-mile Fun Paddle will begin at 9 a.m. with a 2-mile competitive race following at 10 a.m. Canoes, as well as one- or two-person kayaks, are welcome. Registration is $25 per boat.
The entry fee for Performance Handicap Racing Fleet, Portsmouth, Rhodes 19 and Catalina 22 is $50 per boat. Youth Class entry fee is $25 per boat. All entry fees are tax deductible.
Guests are invited to watch the races for free beginning at 12:30 p.m. The Al’s Activity Area for children — named in honor of local Children’s patient Al Guarisco — opens at 4 p.m. and will feature a water slide, arts and crafts, games and a chance to paint with Fairhope artist Ricky Trione. Also planned are a silent auction, barbecue plates, a cash bar and live music. The awards ceremony will begin at 7 p.m.
Children’s of Alabama patients and their families are invited to attend. A few boats will be available to take former patients out to watch the races. Last year, Children’s treated more than 1,800 patients from Mobile and Baldwin counties.
For more information, call 251-610-4969 and visit either give.childrensal.org/regatta2016 or facebook.com/childrenscupregatta. Day-of registration is available 9-10:30 a.m. at FYC, 101 Volanta Ave. in Fairhope.
Put on your alligator shoes
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will begin online registration for its 11th annual regulated alligator hunts at 8 a.m. on Friday, June 3. Registration must be completed by 8 a.m. on July 12.
A total of 260 Alligator Possession Tags will be spread among four hunting zones. The fee to apply is $22, and individuals may register one time per zone. Hunters and their assistants must have valid hunting licenses during the pursuit.
Only Alabama residents and Alabama lifetime license holders ages 16 and older may apply for tags. To register, visit www.outdooralabama.com/registration-instructions.
There will be 150 tags in the Southwest Alabama Zone. This includes private and public waters in Mobile and Baldwin counties, plus areas that lie east of U.S. 43 and south of U.S. 84 in Clarke, Monroe and Washington counties. The hunt runs from 8 p.m. Aug. 11 until 6 a.m. Aug. 14, and from 8 p.m. Aug. 18 to 6 a.m. Aug. 21.
Free fishing day
If you want something a little less adventurous, Alabama residents will have the opportunity to fish for free in most public waters on Saturday, June 11. The event is part of National Fishing and Boating Week, which runs June 4-12.
Free Fishing Day allows residents and nonresidents to fish without a license for a day in both salt and fresh waters. Anglers can visit www.outdooralabama.com/where-fish-alabama to find the closest fishing spots.