Star Photo by JEFF KORENKO

The 74 paddlers in the 2002 Yukon River Quest get their start on Main Street today. Thirty-six teams, including 11 Yukon entries, will attempt to paddle the 746 kilometres up the Yukon River into Dawson City.

[ Star article June 19 | Star article July 2 ]

Paddlers begin journey to Dawson in River Quest
by Jeff Korenko
Originally printed in the Whitehorse Star, June 27, 2002

With the blare of a siren, rowers taking part in the fourth-annual Yukon River Quest began another wet, adventurous journey to Dawson City today.

A best-ever total of 36 teams, comprising recreational canoe, solo and double kayak, and voyageur classes, flooded down Main Street from in front of Horwoods Office Supplies onto the Yukon River, following the 12:15 p.m. Le Mans-style start.

This year’s race has a record-number 74 paddlers.
There are 20 tandems registered in recreational canoe and 12 in double kayak, while eight paddlers will attempt to tackle the tricky Yukon River in a solo kayak.

As well, two voyageur canoes — one being the local entry Paddlers Abreast — are now making their way up the Yukon River.

The Paddlers Abreast team consists of Ava Christl, Edith Doyle, Cindy Gilday, Donna Jones, Vanessa McNeil, Janet Moore, Dawn Olli and Linda Rapp.

Eleven teams in this year’s race have at least one paddler from the Yukon.

Roughly five minutes before the siren sounded, Whitehorse mayor Ernie Bourassa warmly welcomed this year’s field of competitors, some of whom hail from as far away as Germany and Austria.

The mayor wished the participants good luck and advised them to “paddle safe.”
Bourassa also noted publicly that he once again will be taking added interest in the event, as his wife Linda is competing in a solo kayak.

“Grandma Bun Bun, see you in Dawson,” the mayor declared.

This year’s race — the longest paddling endurance race in the world — is the first for many in the field of 74.

In that boat — so to speak — is local athlete Brooke Harker.
Harker will be teamed with River Quest veteran Tony Arcand.
Arcand has rowed in all three previous races to Dawson and competed in the Dyea-to-Dawson canoe race in 1998.

“We’ll be stopping in Carmacks, because I don’t want my partner’s expectations to get too high,” Harker stated with a wry smirk, when asked what strategy he and his paddling companion will employ over the course of the next few days.
The joke was in reference to the fact that Arcand’s partners have wanted to scratch in each of the first three years.

On a more serious note, Harker admitted that the duo would like to come into Dawson in about 60-65 hours, but a finishing time is tough to nail down, because of the unpredictable weather factor.

High winds and rain can wreak havoc on rowers making their way across Lake Laberge and through the Five Finger Rapids.

“We just want to get out there and do the best we can,” Arcand said.
There are two mandatory stopovers along the 746-km course into Dawson City.
Paddlers will take a two-hour break in Carmacks before hitting the river again. They will then be able to rest for a minimum of six hours in Minto.

It is at the checkpoints where teams are allowed to receive full assistance from their support staff.

The lead teams should begin to make their way into Carmacks by about 9 a.m. tomorrow.
Once the lead boats reach Minto, it should be easy to ascertain whether the 2001 record finishing time of 52 hours, nine minutes — set by the Michigan team of Steve Landick and Mark Churchill — will be in jeopardy.

Last year, Landick and Churchill floated into Carmacks as the lead boat after being on the water for 16 hours, 17 minutes.

They maintained a slim lead over Washington’s Tom Feil and Jeff Mettler into Minto, stroking for five hours, 18 minutes between the two mandatory stopovers.

The prize money for this year’s race is about $15,000 U.S.
The first place team overall —regardless of whether they are paddling a recreational canoe or double kayak — will receive $1,200.

The second duo into Dawson City will win $500.
There are also prizes of $500 for being the first-place men’s, women’s and mixed teams.
Thus, total prize money for the fastest team into the Gold Rush capital will be $1,700.
In the solo kayak class of eight, $1,900 will be split between the top seven finishers, with the first-place paddler earning a cheque for $500.

An additional $400 can be won for being the fastest man’s or woman’s solo kayak into Dawson.

Star Photo by Vince Fedoroff

RIVER QUESTERS OFF - The Paddlers Abreast team hits the water to start the fourth annual Yukon River Quest this afternoon. They are using the RCMP replica of a Tlingit craft. Thirty-six teams are registered in the event this year. Last year's winners of the race finished in 52 hours nine minutes.