Yukon River Quest bigger than ever

The ninth installment of the Yukon River Quest, the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world, is set to be the biggest in the race’s…

The ninth installment of the Yukon River Quest, the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world, is set to be the biggest in the race’s history.

Eighty-five teams, with 200 paddlers from across the globe, will set out from the starting line in Whitehorse on June 27.

The 740-kilometre race runs from Whitehorse to Dawson City, wrapping up on Canada Day in the Klondike.

When registration closed two weeks ago, the field included 28 tandem canoes, 20 tandem kayaks, 25 solo kayaks and 10 voyageur canoes (with six to 10 paddlers).

This year there will also be two entries in an experimental solo canoe category.

The River Quest has become a truly worldwide race, with teams from Australia, Israel, Latvia and Japan, among many others.

The complete list of racers and their bio’s can be found at www.yukonriverquest.com.

The 2007 purse has been set at $26,500.

Winners in the solo and tandem categories receive $1,600 each, while the top voyageur team will win $2,500.

The growth of the voyageur class has been expected, said Jeff Brady, president of the Yukon River Marathon Paddlers Association.

“Team Kissynew from Saskatchewan set a new bar last year, finishing second overall,” Brady said. “They will be the favourite this year, since the record-setting tandem kayak team of David Kelly and Brandon Nelson will not be back.”

Voyageur teams from Texas, New York, Maine and Ontario will attempt to give Kisseynew a run for the money.

The Brits are back again, with the Royal Air Force sending three tandem kayak teams.

The Australian and South African competitive teams are considered world class as well.

Changes to the canoe class could mean better finish times this year.

Canoes up to 5.55 metres are now allowed, but waterline width restrictions remain, to ensure safe passage across Lake Laberge and through Five-Finger Rapids.

During last year’s race, Yukon filmmaker Werner Walcher followed Paddler’s Abreast, a team of local breast cancer survivors competing in the race, for the National Film Board.

The world premiere of the finished film,  River of Life, kicks off the River Quest schedule on Sunday, June 24 at the Yukon Arts Centre. The film will be screened again in Dawson on June 30, at the Odd Fellows Hall.

Paddlers Abreast will race again this year, along with the Canadians Abreast team  Messengers of Hope from Toronto.

The River Quest is not only one of the premier events in the North, but also in the paddling world, featured on the BBC, CBC and in numerous paddling and adventure magazines.

After a LeMans-style start in downtown Whitehorse, teams paddle round-the-clock under the midnight sun, stopping for just two mandatory rests at Carmacks (seven hours) and Kirkman Creek (three hours).

It is a grueling wilderness adventure race that tests the stamina of both professional and recreational paddlers from around the globe.

The prize, for many, is just finishing the event in Dawson City.

In 2006, 74 teams started the event, while 57 finished.

It was the second straight high-water year, and six category records were broken, including the new course record of 40:37:05 set by Kelly and Nelson.

“Results will be updated several times a day during the event, thanks to our safety boat crews, checkpoint crews, radio dispatcher, webmaster, and others,” said Brady.

Volunteers are the cornerstone of the event. It’s not too late to become part of the force; anyone interested in helping out can contact the race organization at info@yukonriverquest.com or call 867-33FLOAT.

Individual bib sponsorships are also available, surf to www.yukonriverquest.com for more information.