It was nice weather for ducks, as the saying goes, but not so nice for paddlers.
Seventy-five teams lined up in the rain on Main Street on Wednesday afternoon for the LeMans-style start of the Yukon River Quest.
The wetsuit-clad racers ran along the riverfront trail, hopping into their boats and beginning their 740-kilometre trek to Dawson.
At stake is more than $20,000 in prize money.
This year, the race boasts its largest field ever. It’s also the most international, with 44 Americans, 21 British paddlers, two Austrians and a solo kayaker from Australia. Ninety-nine Canadians round out the field.
The large UK contingent may have been drummed up by a BBC broadcast of the 2004 race that aired last year.
Included among the 12 all-UK teams are three tandem kayak teams from the British Army, which held its own tryout competition among soldiers this spring to fill the spots.
Solo kayaker Mike Faughey-Scraggs, an orthopedic surgeon from East Yorkshire, UK, is racing to raise money for an emergency care unit in his hospital.
Faughey-Scraggs is a self-described adrenaline junkie who lost his left leg below the knee in a motorcycle accident. He’s racing under the team name “Bones.”
This year, there is also a record six entries in the Voyageur class.
Rain was the only constant as paddlers set out on the first leg of the race, Whitehorse to Carmacks.
Two teams scratched at the start. They included Yellowknife tandem kayakers Nicole Pintkowsky and Jack Simpson and British solo kayaker Dave Treasure, who scratched at Carmacks last year.
Spectators and supporters did some mudbogging along Policeman’s Point Road to catch a last glimpse of the racers before they began the dreaded Lake Laberge crossing.
The large, cold, windswept lake is notorious for its whitecaps.
Aussie solo kayaker Tom Simmat’s support team huddled under an Australian flag umbrella, shouting support as he paddled past the point.
Previous River Quest winners Brandon Nelson and David Kelly, the KayakforCare II team, took an early lead and held it for most of the first day.
The Americans were the first to pass the Lake Laberge checkpoint, at the south end of the lake (the 55-kilometre mark), at 3:47 p.m.
The British Army Team A, Matthew Bailey and Shaun David Thrower, followed nine minutes later.
A surprisingly fast Voyageur team, Kisseynew-Dalutweh Denesuline, was third past the checkpoint, just a minute behind.
Hugging the east shore of the lake, they disappeared into the haze of weather to the north.
The first solo kayaker to check in was Californian Carter Johnson, racing in his second River Quest.
Veteran Whitehorse kayaker Steve Mooney tipped his boat within the first hour, but it didn’t seem to slow him much — he passed the Lake Laberge checkpoint in sixth place (second in the solo-kayak division).
After a mandatory seven-hour break in Carmacks, paddlers will head to Dawson City. The first paddlers expected to arrive between 5 and 6 p.m. on Friday.