What happens when you put five kayakers and a rookie River Quester in a hand-built Texan voyageur? They post the fastest overall time in the last four years
More than 20 years of River Quest experience translated into a victory last Friday as Yukon Wide Adventures claimed the top spot in the 19th annual Yukon River Quest, pulling into Dawson City at 4:47 p.m. after 715 kilometres on the river.
The voyageur team of Gus Oliveira, Pat McLellan, Wayne Anderson, Dave Hutchison, Stephen Mooney and Thomas de Jager posted a time of 42 hours, 47 minutes and eight seconds, which is the fastest winning time in the past four
“It was a neat experience,” said bow paddler Oliveira, of Saltspring Islanda, B.C.
“We’re all solo paddlers. Putting us all together, there was a lot of doubt as to how we would all perform together, but it was an amazing experience. Everyone worked as a team right from the start.”
More amazing still was that the team, which was primarily solo kayakers, had only one paddler with major canoeing experience on the team: McClellan, who was also a River Quest rookie.
“It’s quite the experience,” said Calgary’s McLellan. “For 20-ish years I’ve been trying to talk people into doing this.”
This spring, he got his wish.
“When the opportunity came up to race with these fellows, it was great, magical,” he said. “I must admit that it’s a lot longer than I’m used to and I’m feeling the consequences.”
McLellan sat in three seat and along with Hutchinson – in four seat – called the ‘huts’, which is when the paddlers switch sides of the boat.
Anderson sat in two seat, while Mooney and de Jager, the boat’s only Yukoners were in five seat and the stern.
Each paddler was positioned strategically in the boat and each had a part to play.
“You start off with the owner of the boat saying ‘I want to be in the back,’ he knows the river, I said ‘ok Thomas’ and I say ‘I want to keep an eye on you, you could fall asleep,’” said Mooney.
With Oliveira at the front setting the pace – an average of 57 strokes a minute, the same as their boat number, 57 – and Anderson taking over when he needed a rest, Mooney performed the same function for de Jager, steering the boat
whenever the captain needed a rest.
“On one hand it’s harder because you keep on going with your team, you don’t want to disappoint your team, even there’s moments when it’s harder than paddling solo,” said de Jager. “But on the other hand certain things are easier.”
There’s also comrades to trade stories and snacks with – cantaloupe, pretzels, gatorade – and people to answer when queried about routes around islands. In-boat tasks become easier with five others to support you.
“This is luxury compared to a kayak. So much more room,” said Mooney. “The boat still moves when you put your blade away.”
While a record run remained out of reach for the team, there’s questions on whether they will take advantage of the pole position and free entry into 2018’s race.
de Jager has now posted top finishes in all four of his River Quests.
“I’m happy. I can’t beat that. Maybe I take a break, but you never know. If I hear again the call of the Yukon River Quest, maybe I come again,” de Jager laughs. “You never know.”
More photos and stories from the Yukon River Quest in Wednesday’s Whitehorse Star.