Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Chuck Tobin

SAFE ARRIVAL – The team of volunteers working the dock at Carmacks bring in the mixed tandem kayak team early Thursday afternoon.

Image title

Photo by Chuck Tobin

DRUM BEAT – Northern Tutchone drummer Joseph O’Brien was among the drummers in Carmacks Thursday afternoon who welcomed the Whitehorse women’s voyageur team Stix Together.

Image title

Photo by Chuck Tobin

Thomas de Jager, Sarah Ouellette

Yukon voyageur canoe expect to win 20th Yukon River Quest

The lead boat in the 20th anniversary of the Yukon River Quest left Carmacks Thursday afternoon at 2:30.

By Chuck Tobin on June 29, 2018

The lead boat in the 20th anniversary of the Yukon River Quest left Carmacks Thursday afternoon at 2:30.

While they might be off the pace to establish a new record they set out to capture, the Yukon Wide Adventures voyageur canoe of six men from Whitehorse and Inuvik, with one paddler from Salt Springs Island, B.C., is not throwing in any towels.

Whitehorse boat captain Thomas de Jager said in a brief interview before departing the check point his crew is not dissuaded.

He recalled the low water they encountered after clipping across Lake Laberge just two minutes off the record pace.

The Thirty Mile stretch of river below Laberge was difficult.

De Jager said unlike the smaller boats, it’s not easy moving a voyageur canoe from one river channel to another, and with low water, it was that much more difficult.

“The Thirty Mile almost killed me, because is was a tough one, steering that boat.”

As difficult as might have been, Yukon Wild Adventures was first into Carmacks, reaching the 301-kilometre mark in the 715-kilometre River Quest at 7:30 a.m., a full 48 minutes ahead of the voyageur canoe paddled by six men from the U.K.

De Jager said the paddle from Carmacks onward should be more fruitful as the river widens. He’s hoping the outflow from the White River will give them a boost in their final push to Dawson, though he’s not expecting much water out of the Stewart.

“I hope this adventure brings us far to reach our goal, whatever that is,” he said while gnawing on a pork chop after several hours of sleep at the mandatory seven-hour layover. “We’ll leave it open for now.”

The official race tracker for the River Quest was estimating at noon today that the Yukon Wide Adventures boat would be first to Dawson at about 6:22 this evening. The Paddlesports Mongrel, the U.K paddlers who arrived second into Carmacks, is expected second into Dawson at 7:32.

The tracker was predicting The Kiwis mixed tandem kayak of Ian Huntsman and Wendy Rich of Canterbury, New Zealand, will be third into the Gold Rush capital at 8:06 p.m. Expected in fourth at 8:26 is the Whitehorse tandem canoe team of Robert Spinks and Jake Paleczny. The tracker is predicting the Ontario tandem men’s canoe team of Jeff Brainard and Gaetan Plourde will in fifth at 9:25.

There were 247 paddlers who began the race, in everything from stand up paddleboards to the big voyageurs. Of the 103 teams who launched at Rotary Peace Park, 15 of all types have dropped, and 88 remained as of noon.

Meanwhile, as de Jager and his crew begin stirring from their sleep an hour or two before they’re allowed to get back on the river, the check point at The Coal Mine Campground is buzzing.

It’s buzzing with volunteers, race officials, support teams of spouses and friends and fans who are there simply their to recognize the stamina of the paddlers who’ve set out to conquer the river.

As each boat arrives at the campground docks, the shoreline erupts with applause and words of encouragement, while drummers greet many of them.

As each boat arrives, the dock crew secures it while others assist the paddlers from the boat.

After leaving Whitehorse 25 hours earlier in his solo kayak, Rob Colliver’s legs aren’t ready to cooperate as the volunteers help out of his boat.

They help him stand, one on each arm, and they assist him as he makes his first steps in more than a day.

Checkpoint co-ordinator Gilles Archambault, who’s sharing the duties with Stacey Ashley, said there’s about 30 volunteers at the campground.

There’s the members of support teams who just want to help out for a couple of hours while their paddlers sleep.

Volunteers are everywhere.

It’s estimated 250 of them will assist with the race from Whitehorse to Dawson, and while most are locals, not all of them are.

Steve Simpson is here from Melbourne, Australia, volunteering. While reading a travel brochure back home about the top six things to do in Canada, visiting the Yukon was on the list.

He came for the first time last year, and ended up volunteering.

Simpson is back this year, specifically to volunteer.

“This part is easy,” he said with a smile, in apparent contrast to the challenge facing the paddlers. “Plus they give you a t-shirt.”

Northern Tutchone drummer Joseph O’Brien is among the drummers who greet the first voyageur team of women to reach Carmacks.

The eight Whitehorse paddlers of team Stix Together, including Cheryl Rivest and her daughter Chantelle, are even feisty as they climb from their canoe for a group hug and cheer on shore.

“Hey you guys, were the first women’s team here,” Chantelle informs the crew with jubilance.

A short distance away, their support team has put up the tents where they’ll sleep, and they’ve got the food ready and out under a gazebo-style tent.

Most are looking for fruit, but there’s fried eggs if that’s their fancy, or whatever their pleasure. Dinner will be waiting when they wake.

“We are really pleased with our time,” said boat captain Sarah Ouellette just before heading to bed. “There was a bit of rain overnight and some head winds from time to time but overall it was a great leg.”

Ouellette pointed out their voyageur canoe was donated this year by an anonymous donor who wanted to see them stick together and continuing raising money for the Yukon Cancer Care Fund.

Be the first to comment

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.