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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hug after taking part in a dragon boat race in Dalvay Lake, P.E.I. Monday, July 4, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge hug after taking part in a dragon boat race in Dalvay Lake, P.E.I. Monday, July 4, 2011. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Royal tour

Play, not pomp, marks PEI visit Add to ...

Moments after beating her in a hard-fought paddling race, Prince William stood in the cold rain and offered a quick cuddle to his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge.

It was an affectionate gesture, one that seemed appropriately casual on a day marked more by fun than formality.

The royal couple have made it clear that they want this tour to focus more on friendly interactions and less on posh events. That came true in spades Monday, when they spent the bulk of the day on Prince Edward Island, taking in a lobster bake on the beach, meeting actors playing characters from Anne of Green Gables and racing dragon-boats for the prize of a bottle of champers.

There was the official business first: a welcome to Charlottetown followed by a few remarks by Prince William. The couple also did a walkabout and greeted throngs of fans - some of whom had waited all night - before riding away in the state landau. But then they headed out of the capital for some fun in rural PEI.

The dragon-boat race was the highlight, with the Prince signalling that there would be no easing up to allow his opponents to win.

Under grey skies and fighting blustery winds, the royal couple was joined on the water by Premier Robert Ghiz and his wife, as well as an assortment of top athletes. The Prince's boat edged to victory - and a fellow paddler said he couldn't resist a bit of gloating.

"He was the only one who put his paddle [in the air]" said Olympic runner Jared Connaughton, who was also in the boat. "[The instructor]was like, specifically, do not raise your paddle because the boat will tip. Luckily William was in the middle."

The Duchess, an experienced paddler who considered a trip across the English Channel for charity in 2007, appeared to take the loss and weather in stride.

She had changed into casual clothing from her morning outfit - a nautical dress in cream with dark accents designed by Sarah Burton, for the fashion house Alexander McQueen - and chatted amiably with the Mi'kmaq woman conducting a smudging ceremony.

The air of informality carried through several of their events on the island.

They laughed it off when singer Meaghan Blanchard accidentally conflated their titles, welcoming the Duke and Duchess as the "Dootch." The visiting royals appeared to find this amusing, as did many in the rain-soaked crowd.

The couple also seemed unconcerned at being filmed sampling seafood during a beach party, a breach of protocol that traditionally prevents them being immortalized while eating.

And Catherine gave every impression of calm earlier while her husband was learning, before a crowd of thousands, to land a helicopter on water. The technique is known as waterbirding and was developing by Canadians as an emergency measure for the Sea King helicopter.

William repeatedly brought down the lumbering helicopter in a maelstrom of spray. He was shown various techniques, including water taxiing and landing and taking off with one engine powered down, before testing them himself.

Major Patrick MacNamara, who was on the helicopter with the Prince, called the visiting pilot's form "fantastic" and "crisp." The officer said that their student was good enough that he was able to pursue additional procedures in which he was interested.

"He was a star, he nailed every one of them," Major MacNamara said. "I would suggest he was having quite a bit of fun."

The couple flew to Yellowknife later Monday.

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