Paddling season taking shape

Unpredictable spring weather might delay the start-date of the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club's weekly Wednesday races a week or two, but the Yukon's big three are set in stone.

Unpredictable spring weather might delay the start-date of the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club’s weekly Wednesday races a week or two, but the Yukon’s big three are set in stone.

The Yukon River Quest, the Yukon 360 and the Yukon 1000 are all set to take place within six weeks of each other and, while two of the races will doubtlessly be brimming with Yukoners, one of the three is waiting for its first local competitor.

The Yukon 1000, the world’s longest annual canoe and kayak race, stretching 1,600 kilometres between Whitehorse, past Eagle, Alaska, to the Dalton Highway, has never had a Yukon entry, and this year is looking the same.

“It’s a difficult one for people to find time for,” said Peter Coates, the Yukon 360 and 1000 organizer. “It’s not that people don’t want to do it, it’s finding the time. It’s two weeks out of your life.”

So far, the third-annual race, which begins July 18, only has five teams registered, with just a pair of Canadians from Alberta entered.

“I’ll let people sign up within a week of the race,” said Coates. “People have to convince me that they are OK to paddle, which means anyone who has done the River Quest, the 360, or has a good pedigree of wilderness experience. I’m not that fussed whether they have done big races, it’s knowing that they are safe out there.”

For those who want to race, but don’t want the time commitment of the 1000 or the Quest, there’s the Yukon 360.

This year’s race, which will take place over the Discovery Days weekend starting on August 13, will be from Mayo to Dawson: “360 kilometres on the button.”

“The first half of that is going to be slow moving, so I am told,” said Coates. “Almost nobody seems to have paddled the Stewart River. I guess no one likes paddling along the road, or something.

“But that’s one of the big draws this year. People are saying, ‘Oh, I haven’t done the Stewart, here’s an excuse to do it.’

“This race is the complete opposite of the 1000. You don’t have to take any time off work.”

As a result of lifting the solo canoe limit of five teams, and easing rules on boat specifications, the Yukon River Quest from Whitehorse to Dawson City will see a record number of solo canoeists embark on June 29.

After just three paddlers in the solo canoe category last year, the limit of five has been removed, opening all 30 solo positions to both canoeists and kayakers on a first-come-first-serve basis.

As a result, the Quest currently has a record 11 solo canoeists set to go.

Helping boost numbers are less stringent boat specifications for the solo canoe category. For example, canoes are now allowed to be more slender, making them a little more tippy, but faster.

“They have loosened the specs from last year, so you will see more interesting designs and much faster times,” said Quest board member Jason Doucet. “The big tubby boats is what the class was – they left it fairly safe. So they loosened the specs to make it more in line with the kayaks, to make it more competitive.

“That’s probably helped open it up too.”

The Quest also has a record amount of women voyageur teams entered with six, bringing the total voyageur canoe count to 11, tying the record. Included in the line-up are the Texans, who have won the race three out of the last four years.

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“It’s worth reminding paddlers, if they go up to the Marsh Lake dam to paddle, to paddle downstream, not upstream, so we don’t disturb the birds,” said Coates, referring to flocks of swans in the area. “That’s just what’s going on at the moment.”

Contact Tom Patrick at