Paddlers launch their boats for one last race

The 2016 Autumn Classic canoe and kayak race didn’t have the largest field of paddlers in its history. It’s possible some paddlers opened up their blinds Saturday morning to see big, wet snowflakes falling in a drizzle of freezing rain.

The 2016 Autumn Classic canoe and kayak race didn’t have the largest field of paddlers in its history.

It’s possible some paddlers opened up their blinds Saturday morning to see big, wet snowflakes falling in a drizzle of freezing rain outside their windows and decided to sit this one out.

Turns out, it was quite pleasant on the river.

“It was unpromising to begin with, with the snow and the rain, but actually most of the time we were on the river it wasn’t raining. Or if it was raining, it was something you could ignore,” said organizer Peter Coates. “No wind, so it was beautiful paddling weather. And my hands didn’t get cold, so that tells you it was all right.”

“It was snowing when we left town this morning and we got here and it was pouring rain, but as soon as we started it cleared right up,” added racer Jake Paleczny. “It was beautiful. Perfect conditions.”

A total of six paddlers in four boats took part in the 10th annual race on the M’Clintock River, starting and ending at the Alaska Highway south of Whitehorse.

Coates and Tim Hodgson paddled to a first place finish in the 11-kilometre race, completing the 5.5-kilometre out-and-back course in one hour, 11 minutes and 36 seconds.

Paleczny and Karen Mann came second at 1:16:14. Both teams were in tandem canoes.

“It was fun. I hadn’t raced tandem in a while, so I wanted to try C-2,” said Hodgson. “I wanted to beat the kids. I was racing solo canoe in the Chili and Bean Downriver Race and (Palecny and Mann) beat me, so I figured I had to go tandem to beat them.”

Paleczny and Mann were in the winning boat – a seven-paddler voyageur canoe – in last year’s race, with Hodgson hot on their heels in a solo canoe. They were also the first Yukon paddlers to reach the finish in the Yukon River Quest in June, placing first in the mixed tandem canoe division and seventh overall.

Yota Onodera, who is visiting from Japan, placed third on Saturday in a solo kayak at 1:29:00.

Whitehorse’s Jim Boyde claimed fourth, crossing the finish line in his rowboat – yes, a rowboat – in 1:52:10.

“This is a fun river to paddle. It’s quite narrow and quite winding,” said Mann. “You have to stay on your toes to make the tight turns.”

“We’re used to paddling on big bodies of water … Here there are a lot of very tight turns, so there’s some strategy,” said Paleczny. “You have to stay close to shore on the way up so you get as little current as possible. On the way down you’re sticking to the middle where the water is deepest and fastest.”

The Autumn Classic is the final race on the calendar for the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club.

Contact Tom Patrick at

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