Field for fourth-annual River Quest largest ever
by Jeff Korenko
Originally appeared in the June 19, 2002 Whitehorse Star

When the fourth-annual Yukon River Quest gets underway in its usual exciting fashion next Thursday, it will see a best-ever number of participants take to the water.

Thirty-six teams have registered to compete in the 2002 edition of the 736-kilometre paddling adventure from Whitehorse to Dawson City.
That number is up from 24 last year, when Michigan’s Steve Landick and Mark Churchill were the first team to float into the Gold Rush capital in a record time of 52 hours, nine minutes.

This year, 20 teams — including seven local vessels — will compete in the Recreational Canoe class.

Eight individuals will tackle the Yukon River’s tricky conditions in the Solo Kayak category.  Included in that field will be three local entries, while the Double Kayak class sports six boats — five from Outside.

Along with the three usual classes of boats, there will be two voyageur class entries.  A team of local women coined “Paddlers Abreast” will comprise one entry, while the other — Caribou to Klondike — from Quesnel, B.C. is the other.
This time around, a total of $15,000 in prize money will be available for the taking, up from $13,000 in 2001. “We’re hugely happy (with the number of teams entered),” said spokesperson Shanna O’Malley in a telephone discussion from the River Quest office this morning.  “We’re expecting another good race this year, of course.”

The increase in the number of teams from 2001 to 2002 comes in spite of the fact last year’s race was mired in controversy concerning the finish. Nonetheless, O’Malley intimated that word continues to get around that the event is worth taking part in. Lending credence to that observation is the fact that members of 15 teams reside outside of Canada.

This year, teams will come from as far away as Austria, Northern Ireland, Germany and the United Kingdom. Entries from the U.S. include teams from the states of New Jersey, California, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Alaska. As well, there are also teams entered which reside in the provinces of Alberta, B.C. and Ontario.

“As much as (what happened last year) may have hurt us, the people have still spoken highly about the race,” O’Malley pointed out.  “I think people understood that we are still a young race.” 

Last year, an uproar ensued in Dawson City when protests from four teams charged that Landick and Churchill used an illegally-modified canoe. The winners’ canoe had been significantly narrowed in the back and the perception was that the modification made it easier on the paddler stroking in the back.  However, race co-ordinator John Firth had approved the vessel weeks in advance of the race, leaving 2001 race marshall Brian Charles in a very tight spot.

Charles conceded in a post-race interview that the winners’ boat was indeed carved into more of a racing-style canoe.  After Landick and Churchill landed in Dawson City, they were initially assessed a one-hour penalty, which left them in second place overall; a decision they were not pleased with at all, to say the least.

When that decision was reversed, they were awarded first place in what was termed a one-time only racing class. Second-place finishers Tom Feil and Jeff Mettler of Wenatchee, WA were given first place in the usual Recreational Canoe class and collected the same first-place prize money as Landick and Churchill.

The contentious verdict caused a wave of letters vilifying the decision to be sent to the Whitehorse media from supporters of Landick and Churchill in Michigan.  However, as far as O’Malley is concerned, that was then, and this is now.  The River Quest has taken the necessary steps to ensure what happened last year never occurs again, she maintained.

“We’ve modified the rules so as that there will be no leeway in interpretation of canoe design,” O’Malley said.  As well, any concerns about the style of any vessel must be brought to the attention of the race’s officials prior to hitting the Yukon River at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, she declared.

The race will once again get started in front of the CIBC bank on the corner of Second Avenue and Main Street and all competitors will sprint toward the riverbank, where their boats will be waiting to be taken onto the river.  Thus, Main Street from Second Avenue to the waterfront will be closed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. next Thursday.

The BBC from the United Kingdom will be following the race to do a documentary on South Glamorgam paddlers Debra Veal and Bruce Parry and the race in general. Veal and Parry will compete in the Recreational Canoe class.

The youngest paddler in this year’s race is Cold Foot, Alaska’s Elizabeth Jayne, who is merely 14 years-old.

Of the 26 tandem teams entered, 14 are men’s, 11 are mixed and one is a women’s entry.  The lone women’s team is comprised of local river endurance race veteran Yvonne Harris.  Harris will pair with Patricia McKenna this year.

In 2001, she paddled with Sue Deforest, placing 10th overall.

2002 Yukon River Quest - Local Registered Teams:
Recreational Canoe Class
William Kleedehn/Catherine Pinard, mixed; Yvonne Harris/Patricia McKenna, women’s; Erin Nuefel/Stephen Horton, mixed; Hank Timm/Colleen Haney, Alaska/Whitehorse, mixed; Marcus Waterreus/Jonathan Kerr, men’s; Tim Hodgson/Paul Pageau, Whitehorse/Toronto, men’s; Anthony Arcand/Brooke Harker, men’s.
Solo Kayak Class
Linda Bourassa; Ingrid Wilcox; James Tousignant.