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Taiwan ROC adds to the Chinese, American and British boats already plying the waters of the Blackstone American Heritage River


The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council (BVTC) a leader in public river access in the Blackstone River Valley since 1989 has released the names of six Dragon Boats that were built specifically for the Blackstone River Valley of Rhode Island.


These six unique racing vessels, each 50 feet in length come to the United States sponsored by Taiwan ROC. The boats were the centerpiece of the 2004 Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Races & Taiwan Day Festival happening Saturday, September 10, along the Pawtucket , RI waterfront.


“These new Dragon Boats will be the longest boats to ever ply the waters of the Blackstone River Valley in 156 years,” according to BVTC President Robert D. Billington, who is also the coordinator of the race and festival.


The six new Dragon Boats imported from Taiwan are:

The Star of Taiwan ; The Glory of Taiwan ; The Beauty of Taiwan ; The Spirit of Taiwan ; The Friendship of Taiwan and Riverfront Lofts USA .


In addition, the region also has four other Dragon Boats, built in Hong Kong , China , that were brought to America in 2000 by Pawtucket , RI businessman Louis Yip. These boats previously competed in Dragon Boat races held on the Pawtucket River . These boats are named The Golden Dragon; The Silver Dragon; The Pawtucket and The Blackstone.


The Rhode Island Chinese Dragon Boat Race is modeled after the world famous Dragon Boat Festivals held around the globe. The Dragon Boats are unique racing vessels, designed with brightly colored Dragon heads and serpentine styled. Each Dragon boat accommodates 16 paddlers, a drummer and a steerperson. Paddlers on the boats row to the rhythmic drum beating during the races.


“We probably now have more Dragon Boats that any other waterway in the country,” Billington noted with the combined flotilla of 10 Dragon Boats.


In addition to the Dragon Boats, the Blackstone River Valley has four other boats that BVTC operates along portions of the Blackstone River and nearby waterways that are part of the Blackstone American Heritage River System.


The Blackstone Valley Explorer launched in 1993 is a 49 passenger riverboat offering seasonal tours along portions of the Blackstone River in Valley Falls and Woonsocket .


The Spirit of the Blackstone Valley launched in 1994 is a 12 passenger rivercraft providing interpretive tours in the region’s more shallow waters.


The Hope was launched in 1999 and carries 49 passengers, which was custom built to provide commuter ferry service.


These boats were all built in the USA .


The Canal Boat Samuel Slater was launched in 2000 and built in the United Kingdom exclusively designed for use in Rhode Island ’s Blackstone River . An authentic British canal boat similar to those found in that nation’s waterways, it is the state’s only floating bed and breakfast, accommodating four guests. As a tour boat, it serves up to 12 passengers and in docked year round in Valley Falls .


“We can boast the fact that we have made our historic river a popular destination for cultural tourism, recreation and environmental interpretation, because of the investment we have made in putting residents and visitors on the river,” Billington said.


Originally, during the expansion of the American Industrial Revolution, begun in the Blackstone River Valley in the late 18th century, the Blackstone River was transformed from 1828-1848 as the prime transportation route connecting the farms and factories inland from Worcester, MA southeasterly to the ports of Providence, RI , situated at the head of Narragansett Bay. In that 20 year span, the Blackstone Canal was constructed and canal boats were a common site until 1848, when the railroads replaced boats.


From 1848 until 1989 the Blackstone River was considered un-navigable. However, 15 years ago, BVTC started experimental river tours along parts of the Blackstone River to re-introduce the public to the history and hidden nature along the river. This was done with leased glass-bottom boats.


Based upon the success of those research tours, efforts began to raise money to build a permanent riverboat for scenic, recreational and educational tours on the Blackstone River . “People thought at the time we were a bit crazy using glass bottom boats in our development phase of opening the Blackstone River as a destination.” according to Billington.


“We started to raise money in the early 1990’s to build our first boat, the Blackstone Valley Explorer, which just celebrated its 11th year in operation last month. At the time, skeptics thought we would never have the money to build the Explorer. Since August 1993 the Explorer alone has carried over 275 thousand passengers and has cruised on six regional rivers because of the boat’s shallow draft,” Billington added.


In 1998, as a result of the significance of being located in a National Heritage Corridor, and with increase visitation along the river, the Federal Government designated the Blackstone River one of only 14 American Heritage Rivers, due to the river’s importance to the nation’s social, cultural and economic development.


Today, the Blackstone River and its adjoining waterways, enjoy being “a river of cultural diversity” as it showcases how history, recreation and celebrating ethnicity have all influenced the future in the region.


For more about the upcoming Chinese Dragon Boat Races in September, the BVTC and its many tourism programs, please call 401-724-2200 or visit the web at  


9/6/03 - The Chinese Dragon Races were a huge success - of the River, of the weather, of the friendships and exciting events and also for the strong Taiwanese collaboration with the RI Tourist Council to coordinate this 4th annual event. Thirty one teams participated, coming from New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Boston and many competitive teams from local communities. Several municipalities assembled challenging groups of up to 16 rowers per boat. Cranston, Pawtucket, Providence, Cumberland  as well as an all women's team from the National Heritage Corridor, dubbed the Misfits (seen above), all worked competitively to grab various cash prizes (for charity) and a dinner for 40.  Pawtucket dominated the other towns with repeated efforts throughout the heats and final competition.

Along with the growing number of teams is the growing group of spectators drawn by the exciting Chinese dancing, public speakers, including Providence Mayor David Cicilline and Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey. RI Representative Patrick Kennedy was on hand and also rowed and placed second in one competition with his "Patrick and Patrick" team.

A huge tent , surrounded by streaming colors of Chinese silks and alluring dragons, was filled with attentive listeners as a series political and other guests, including RI Governor Donald L. Carcieri spoke of the contributors to produce this wonderful success. As the range of public speakers drew to a close, a special treat arose - 94 year old  Billy Hume, along with his daughter in her 70s, played a mean harmonica and then surprised the crowd with a rousing ditty. Applause burst throughout the tent as the energy from his quick rendition was visibly engaging. 

One of the special gifts highlighted was a $1000. donation from Memorial Hospital towards a Breast Cancer Awareness Race which hosted five teams. This is just one of many events being coordinated to raise funds for this cause.

The dragon race heats were running every 20 minutes or so throughout most of the day starting before 9 a.m.. Parking was close by or direct shuttle was available every twenty minutes from the Visitors Center offering plenty of parking, too. Chinese food, crafts and dancing continued throughout the day.

Blackstone Daily got a chance to speak with Rhode Island's Governor and his lovely wife, Suzanne, a retired science teacher. Both expressed concern about the watershed and the need to work with Massachusetts officials and associations to effectively continue to lessen impacts to the River and its many tributaries. The Governor expects to see that goal move forward shortly.



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