Trip down Yukon River not a dream for German duo

Two Germans have rowed their handmade replica York boat to shore much earlier than planned. And while grateful to be alive, the story they're telling isn't what they expected.

Two Germans have rowed their handmade replica York boat to shore much earlier than planned. And while grateful to be alive, the story they’re telling isn’t what they expected.

Joachim Kreuzer and Manfred Schroter left Whitehorse on Canada Day with hopes of reaching the Bering Sea. The pair, members of a German historical re-enactment group, wanted to travel the Yukon River on a boat similar to the ones fur traders used. The boat had a sail and two oars. They dressed like fur traders and used historical equipment – like muskets and a cannon. They planned to film their trip for German TV.

But that won’t be happening this year. Bad weather forced them to call it quits on July 4. After spending some time near Whitehorse, they flew back to Germany on July 14.

The two decided to end their trip after a stormy ride across Lake Laberge ruined supplies and scratched their boat. Before they’d left Germany, they had heard the lake could be dangerous and weather unpredictable. “I have big, big respect for this lake,” said Kreuzer from Germany. “I tip my hat for everyone who’s done it.”

“You cannot say, ‘In two weeks, you are there.’ If the weather is not good, you cannot go, especially on Lake Laberge.”

Strong winds caused the boat to fill with water. The two decided to put the sail down and row. That was a mistake, said Kreuzer. It took them three hours to reach shore at a campground near Deep Creek. There, they set up a tarp and went about rescuing their supplies.

The boat sustained minor damage, but the two were able to repair it. But they couldn’t save everything. Water destroyed their food supplies. Batteries for their electronic equipment were ruined, and they didn’t have money to replace them. The whole point of the trip was to make the documentary, said Kreuzer.

“It was not easy for us to say, ‘No,’ this year,” he said.

“Our way was, ‘We must do it alone. We will make the movie.’ And that was not possible in this moment,” said Kreuzer. It may have been easier if their movie equipment were on another boat, he said.

He estimated that they lost about 2,000 euros ($2,700) worth of food and equipment. The trip had cost about $130,000.

After they decided to stop their journey, the two spent some time with a Whitehorse man they met while staying at the campground. He took them around Whitehorse and to Atlin, B.C. They also panned for gold, and found a little “glimmer,” said Kreuzer.

He’s also storing the boat for the winter. That’s good, because Kreuzer and Schroter want to return next summer.

But things will be different. First, they plan on beginning from the campground where this year’s journey ended. They plan to travel to Dawson City, not to the Bering Sea. And they’ll pack lighter. Instead of carrying two pans, stoves and muskets, they may only bring one of each, said Kreuzer. They hope to bring the cannon back. They had trouble getting it through Canadian customs this year, but if it’s allowed to enter, they’ll bring it with them.

“It’s good for the story,” said Kreuzer.

Many of the people on the flight back to Germany recognized them because of their unique clothes. They’ve already received emails from some encouraging them to try again, said Kreuzer.

As friends in Germany have pointed out, many explorers weren’t successful at the beginning, said Kreuzer.

“We are not the first ones to stop at the first part,” he laughed. “Nobody said, ‘You are a loser.’”

“We survived, and we have a good story about it. No broken legs or anything like that.”

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