A voyager team makes its way down the Yukon River during the Yukon River Quest. (Jillian Rogers)

Paddlers from around the world will converge in Whitehorse next week, for the 19th annual Yukon River Quest. Two-hundred-and-thirty-four participants are signed up to complete the 444 mile ‘Race to the Midnight Sun’. They’ll travel by canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddle board.

The event, which takes paddlers from Whitehorse to Dawson City in the Yukon, is billed as ‘the world’s longest annual canoe and kayak race.’ But, there’s another boat in the mix this year.

Stand-up paddleboards were added as an experimental category in 2016. Now, they’ve earned an official spot in the race.

Skagway’s Jeff Brady is one of the event’s founders. He’s now the media director.

“They proved themselves last year,”says Brady. “We had 11 of them and nine finished. That’s the goal of every racer is to get to Dawson. The fact that 85 percent of them made it to the end was really great. So we added them as an official class this year.”

Four-person canoe teams are also a new addition this year.

“In the voyager class we’ve added four person boats,” says Brady. “So they’ll be competing in the same class as boats that are six people or larger.”

Brady credits these changes with helping the race reach a record number of teams this year. Ninety-six groups are signed up. That’s the most since the race started in 1999.

“We’d actually topped out at our limit of 100 over the winter but we’ve had just a few teams drop out here in the last few weeks,” says Brady.

Including solo paddlers, there are 234 athletes from 13 countries signed up.

“We always have a great contingent from Australia and also Great Britain,” says Brady. “But there’s teams from Japan, even little tiny places like Togo and the Guernsey Islands off the coast of Britain. France, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands.”

And, there are two local teams from Skagway making the trip.

Brady says the time it takes for racers to complete the nearly 450-mile journey will vary. There are two mandatory rest stops along the way.

“The faster teams in this race will be under 50 hours,” says Brady. “The record is 39.5 hours but we haven’t seen those kind of times in a few years due to low water levels in the Yukon again this year is low.”

Last weekend, the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay was cancelled because of highly unusual snowfall at the starting line in Haines Junction.

Brady says he doesn’t think the river race would ever be flat-out cancelled. But, there are a few things that could change the course of the event.

“The worst thing would be ice in the river and I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about that,” says Brady. “The one thing that would slow down or stop the race would be if the winds on Lake Laberge were sustained 30-40 mile-an-hour over a 24 hour or longer period.”

He says race organizers have always had a contingency plan for stopping the event at a certain point, or postponing the start. But, they’ve never had to use it.

The race begins in Whitehorse on Wednesday, June 28. Paddlers are expected to finish sometime on Friday, June 30 or Saturday, July 1. The race officially ends at midnight Saturday.