To finish the world’s longest annual canoe/kayak race is one thing, but to set a record doing it is something special.
That’s exactly what a handful of paddlers did on the weekend at the 10th annual Yukon River Quest, which started Thursday in Whitehorse and ended Saturday in Dawson City.
Not only did Team Kisseynew set a new voyager canoe record, but the team, which is made up of four Canadians, an American and an Australian, set a new course record, shaving 35 minutes off the record previously set in 2006 by a tandem kayak team, Brandon Nelson and David Kelly.
However, Kisseynew members will be the first to give credit to last year’s voyager canoe champions, the Texans, who finished second with a time of 44:05, just 32 minutes behind Kisseynew.
“Without them we would never have come in so fast,” said Kisseynew captain, Martin Bernardin, owner of Kisseynew Canoe Company based out of Saskatoon, referring to the Texans. “We kept pushing each other, pushing each other — it was a good friendly competition, that’s for sure.”
Even at the half way mark in the race, the two crews were still neck-and-neck.
“After 20 hours of racing, for us to be bumping the gunnels of the boat — I mean we’re bumping into each other on the big Yukon River 20 hours into the race!” said Richard Ameen, captain of the Texans. “We’re amazed that it was that close. That’s something that will stick in my mind for a long time.”
“It was back-and-forth with the Texans,” said Kisseynew member Tim Hodgson, who was competing in his third Yukon River Quest. “We’d blow by the Texans every night, and then when it’s hot during the day the Texans would work us over. So it kind of went like that: every night we’d hunt them down and during the day we’d be sweating and they’d pass us.”
“Towards the end we started being aware of our times,” said Hodgson. “We understood that we had a chance at a record but most of our goals were just to stay with the Texans or to beat them.”
Breaking records is nothing new to Bernardin. His first time in the race two years ago, his team broke — or demolished — the voyager record by 12 hours.
In their defence, the Texans may have still been feeling the effects from a race just over a week before. Each of the Texans had just raced in the Texas Water Safari, a 418-kilometre race, and had winners in the first and third place boats.
“It actually takes us longer to do it because the current is not as strong. So they’re endurance paddlers and we were thankful to have them on the team,” said Ameen of the two River-Quest-rookies on his team. “We’re a little fatigued from that still.”
Other records that fell in the race were in the tandem mixed canoe category. The That’s What I’m Talking About team finished fourth overall with a time of 44:13, beating the previous record set in 2003 by two hours, 51 minutes.
Brad Pennington, of Chasing Daylight, broke the single male kayak time, finishing with 44:14, just 42 minutes ahead of the record set in 2006 by Carter Johnson. His time put him in the fifth-place spot.
Lisa McGee and Kim Petherick, of The Incredigirls, also found their way into the record books, undercutting a 2005 record by five hours and 36 minutes in the women’s tandem kayak division, putting them 30th overall.
However, the most savage beating a record took in the race was in the solo canoe division. Kevin Mellis of Alberta Beef, creamed last year’s record set by Joe “Bumbazer” Evans, finishing at 53:03, more than 24 hours faster than Evans’ record of 77:23. (Evans, the only other solo canoe competitor, finished the race just 53 minutes after Mellis.)
To give a better understanding of how grueling the race is, consider that 13 of the 89 boats never even crossed the finish line.
All the race results can be found at www.yukonriverquest.com.