Paddlers hit the water for 16th River Quest

About 60 boats are in a race to the midnight sun. Paddlers splashed in at the start of the 16th annual Yukon River Quest at Whitehorse's Rotary Park on Wednesday at noon.

About 60 boats are in a race to the midnight sun.

Paddlers splashed in at the start of the 16th annual Yukon River Quest at Whitehorse’s Rotary Park on Wednesday at noon.

A total of 153 paddlers, including a defending champ and record holder, on 66 registered teams hit the water for the 715-kilometre race from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

Thirteen countries are represented in this week’s race including Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, French Polynesia, Great Britain, Guatemala, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland. That’s four more countries than last year.

“Big field from all over,” said Quest president Harry Kern. “I’m fascinated by the guys from Guatemala … It’s just fun to see them. They’re from a country that doesn’t have much water and they’re still using dugout (canoes) a lot there. And they’re up here in the race, so I’m interested to see how they do.”

Roslin, Ont.‘s Jeff Brainard is the only paddler back to defend a title from last year. The 52-year-old won the solo canoe division last year and was 10th overall in the race.

Perth, Ont.‘s Gaetan Plourde is back in his solo canoe. The 40-year-old set the solo canoe record of 48 hours and 28 minutes with his win in 2010. Plourde was on the winning two-person canoe last year, placing second overall in the race.

Faro’s Tim Lynch and Milton, Nova Scotia’s Dave Lewis, who were the overall winners of last year’s Quest in a tandem canoe, are not entered in this year’s race. Lynch and Lewis’s win was the first time the race wasn’t won by a voyageur canoe since 2006.

Grande Prairie, Alta.‘s Mary Obstfield, who won the women’s solo kayak last year, is in a mixed tandem kayak with Whitehorse’s Carl Rumscheidt this year.

Whitehorse’s Monique Levesque, who was on the winning women’s voyageur in 2013, is on Team Ts’alvit, a mixed voyageur team this week.

No men’s voyageur teams registered for this year’s Quest, leaving six mixed and two women’s teams.

Teams are expected to begin reaching Dawson Friday. The course record is 39 hours, 32 minutes and 43 seconds set in 2008 by Team Kisseynew with a crew of four Canadians, an American and an Australian.

Five teams – three solo kayaks and two tandem canoes – scratched from the race by press time on Thursday.

“Everything has seemed to have gone right,” said Kern. “It’s always a blizzard of activity and miraculously it all comes together.

“It gets better every year. We have great volunteers – especially our key people. They are just excellent. It just amazes me they just keep wanting to do it. It’s a lot of work.”

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