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River Quest's solo category explodes

More paddlers will be going it alone in this year's Yukon River Quest.

More paddlers will be going it alone in this year’s Yukon River Quest.

As a result of lifting the solo canoe limit of five teams, and easing rules on boat specifications, the 740-kilometre canoe and kayak race on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City will see a record number of solo canoeists embark on June 29.

After just three entries in the solo canoe category last year - and none in 2006 - the limit of five has been removed, opening all 30 solo positions to both canoeists and kayakers on a first-come-first-serve basis.

“It’s whoever registers first, it’s just that the solo classes are limited to 30 boats (combined),” said Quest board member Jason Doucet. “It had no interest and then this year, all of a sudden, it filled up in no time. We opened the solo class to see how many we’d get.”

With a record 10 solo canoeists registered, along with 17 solo kayakers, just three solo boat spots remained at time of press.

In fact, also at press time, more than 75 boats are entered and are set to carry over 165 paddlers downriver, a record for this close to the May 1 registration deadline. (The Quest has a 100-boat limit.)

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 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.”

If the increased numbers don’t do it, the solo canoeists themselves should make it an exciting race.

Back to defend his title is last year’s winner Gaetan Plourde from Perth, Ontario. Though he only had to beat out just two other solo canoeists last year, he set the solo canoe record of 52 hours and 35 minutes.

Also in the lineup is local paddling powerhouse Tim Hodgson, who was on the record setting voyager crew in 2008, helping Team Kisseynew finish the Quest in 39 hours and 32 minutes, which is the voyageur and course record. Hodgson, who has paddled at the national level in past years, missed last year’s Quest because of a shoulder year. The previous race, Hodgson and paddling partner Jane Vincent, were first overall for tandem canoes.

After a five-year absence, Thunder Bay, Ontario’s Joe O’Blenis is back for another go in the Quest, this time in the solo canoe division. Although his first Quest attempt as a solo, O’Blenis has 25 years experience in the marathon paddling, has completed a solo, cross-Canada expedition and holds the current Vancouver Island circumnavigation speed record.

Of course, with more solo competitors - more paddlers alone on the water - chances of an incident increase. However, Quest organizers are hoping to counter some risks.

A solo paddler was temporarily lost close to Dawson at the end of last year’s race, and tensions began to mount as the sun went down and the “sweeper boat” failed to locate him. To help avoid a similar situation in this year’s race, the final three boats through the last checkpoints will be issued Spot devices, a GPS-like gizmo that helps organizers pinpoint a competitor’s position.

“I think he pulled down a side channel and that’s how the safety boat missed him,” said Doucet of the incident last year.

“The last boats around the Kirkman checkpoint, if they haven’t dropped out officially, they will be given Spot devices to keep track of them.”

For more information visit, call the race office at (867) 667-5628, or email

“We need volunteers - the more the merrier,” said Quest board member Ali Morham.

“There’s still 25 spots and we’d like more local paddlers to get in those spots.”

Contact Tom Patrick at