Race on the river

Bonnie Learning
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Townley claims bragging rights in grueling canoe race for third straight year

Joseph Townley (back) and partner and Chad Howse won the 67 km Expedition Race with a time of 7:18:58.

For the third time in five years, Joseph Townley of North West River has come out on top in the Great Labrador Canoe Race (GLCR).

Townley and his partner, Chad Howse, claimed victory in the 67 km Expedition Race on the Churchill River on Aug. 23, with a time of 7:18:58.

But he almost never got to race at all.

Townley – who claimed the same title in 2012 with his brother Anautak Phillips and his other brother, Andreas Phillips, in 2013 — was left scrambling for a partner less than 48 hours before race time.

“I was originally supposed to be paddling with Anautak this year, but he got called on Thursday (the 21st) for work, and was gone Friday morning,” said Townley.

“So I ended up having to find a partner at the last minute, and luckily, Chad was able to paddle with me.”

Townley said this was the ‘hardest year yet’ when it came to race conditions. “We had (easterly) headwinds the entire way, and the water levels were low in a lot of places. We couldn’t use the same route I used in the previous two years, because there were lots of sandbars due to the low water levels.”

These conditions, he said, added over one hour to his previous time from 2013.

Townley and Howse claimed both cash and gift cards for their extraordinary efforts, and Townley claims he will be back next year to defend his title.

“If I can get Anautak to paddle with me and we can keep winning, I’ll keep coming back,” he laughed.

The winners of the 10 km Classic Race were Eric Skoglund and David Barnes, with a time of 1:31:26.

The winners of the 67 km Expedition Top Time Draw for an Esquif Canoe valued at $3,300 were Jim Shouse and Rory Blake.

(For a fill listing of race results, please visit www.labradorcanoerace.com).

Great races

Perry Trimper is the chair of the GLCR.

He said this year was, indeed, the most challenging in race’s five-year history.

“We had 43 teams entered this year, and this was the first year we had to contend with easterly headwinds,” said Trimper.

“While they weren’t strong winds, they threw off the times and scheduling by hours.”

Trimper noted there was great representation in all categories — including from the youngest to the oldest competitors that day.

“We had eight-year old Samuel White paddling with his father, Derrick, in the 10 km race, and we had 83-year old Edna Crow paddle with her son-in-law, John Hicks,” said Trimper.

“So it goes to show the broad appeal of this event.”

The GLCR was established in 2010 to promote three important themes: the rich history of travel by canoe in Labrador; the encouragement of a readily available recreational activity; and the importance of safety when on the water.

A total of 16 teams lined up for a mass start at Edwards Island for the 67 km race at 9:30 a.m., while 27 teams in the Classic race had a staggered start at 1:15 p.m.

Once the canoes reached Muskrat Falls, they had a one-hour pit stop to carefully complete the portage and continue under the bridge/causeway towards the northwest corner of Willow Island. Here they received a medallion to prove they were on the proper route, completed a short portage, paddled around the south side of Willow Island, and raced to the finish line at Birch Island.

In addition to the winds and low water levels, Trimper noted it was also the first year organizers had to pull some teams from the race.

“Regrettably, for the first time in five years, the organizers of the GLCR had to request some teams to come off the River late in the day,” he said.

“This development is one that the GLCR will consult further on and address for future races.”

Trimper said there was huge support for the race, from sponsors to spectators.

“There were an amazing amount of spectators out to Birch Island,” he said. “It was a real adrenaline rush when the paddlers could finally see the finish line, and hearing (emcee) John Kelland on the mic, was a real ‘pick-me-up’ for the racers.”

Trimper said at the end of the day, the most important aspect of the whole event is get people out on the water in Labrador.

“This event has helped get those canoes out of the garages and sheds where they’ve been collecting dust, and back on water where they belong.”


Geographic location: North West River, Churchill River, Labrador Willow Island Birch Island Edwards Island Muskrat Falls

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