Is your drummer useful or just dead weight? The effectiveness of the drummer varies greatly from team to team. Some want the smallest lightest body possible, while others see this as a critical and strategic part of the crew. Some teams rely heavily on the drum beat while others ignore it. Before continuing, let me pass on this passage from the Dragonboat.de web site:
The deceitful drum impact “I did not want to believe it and therefore I checked it once. Does the speed of the sound really have a negative effect on the uniformity of the stroke rate within a Dragon Boat or can you rely on the drum beat to set the stroke rate?
At a temperature of 18°C the speed of sound amounts to approx. 342 meters per second. The sound needs only approx. 0.03 seconds to travel the ten meters from the Drummer to the last paddling bench. With a frequency of 60 strokes per minute a paddle stroke takes one second and the hand of the Paddlers moves in this time approx. one meter. In 0.03 seconds the paddle moves thus 0.03 m = 3 cm. Related to the overall length of the paddle stroke a delay of 3% results. If one considers that over 10 paddling benches the total could be 30 cm the delay rises to nearly 10%. If you can believe in these numbers then the situation is what we always knew it to be – that the drum beat is only a paddling Rhythm. The question then arises: “Why do we need the Drummer?” – Very simply, because a Dragon Boat without Drummer is no longer a Dragon Boat and because we do need someone to throw into water after Racing and – finally we all want our fun!”
Mathematically the article may be right about the Drum Impact; but only mathematically. Most drummers can only be heard by the front half of the boat. The back half uses a variety of means to keep time including the most common method of watching the lead strokes. In many boats the helm will help relay communications to the back half. By working together the helm and the drummer form a team that ensures complete communication within the boat. Some of these teams use elaborate signals and code words to keep their crew informed, while keeping the competition in the dark.
Calling the finish or a rate up or a power sequence are all critical elements of a race and the paddlers all need this information simultaneously. Some teams overcome this with the use of electronics. The “cox-vox” is a system that amplifies a voice and projects it over three speakers in the boat. All paddlers are getting the information at the same time. My experience in international events shows that the microphone is used equally in the front and the back of the boat depending on where the team leader is located.
Don’t discount the steersperson when making your decision about the drummer. A good helm can read a race and is in a better position to see what is happening with the competition. Additionally, the helm is not occupied with the beating of the drum and trying to hang on to a tiny seat swaying in the wind. Regardless of whether or not your drummer is the key part of your team or just along for the ride, there is something to be said about the position. A drummer sitting tall beating the drum with vigour and rhythm is a beautiful sight and an integral part of the sport. The boom, boom, boom of the drums echoing across the water help differentiate our sport from all others and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If he or she has a loud voice that helps motivate the paddlers and carry the team to victory, all the better. Does a 3% lag mean so much that we should discount one of the cornerstones of the sport? Not in my opinion. Although I may disagree with the article I have to agree with one aspect. It is fun to take the person who has been yelling at you during all the practices and races and throw them into the water.