Paddlers will kick off their competitive season on Saturday at the Marsh Stream Canoe Race in Winterport. Credit: BDN File

For the first time in two years, whitewater canoe racing returns to Eastern Maine on Saturday. The Marsh Stream Canoe Race in Winterport is a go, and race director Bill Deighan is making the final preparations for a fun day on the water.

Last year’s entire schedule was scrapped due to the pandemic, which took hold just before the season-opening race. This year’s slate has been pared back a bit due to COVID concerns, and after the two races that traditionally kick off the season were canceled, the Marsh Stream race will act as the season-opener.

“I think people are ready,” Deighan said.

This year’s race will be just 5 miles long — down from 6.3 miles. Because of social distancing concerns, there will not be an in-water safety crew on hand this year, so a stretch including some of the most dangerous rapids will not be run.

“We’re running what we have called the ‘short course,’ which we always have each year, along with the ‘long course,’ Deighan said. “This year it’s the ‘only course.’ I think it’s going to be a great opening race for us this year.”

Deighan said the elimination of two difficult drops will make the race safer, but will not make it boring.

“It still offers some fun water, but not quite as demanding,” he said. “It will decrease the chances of up-close interactions (with safety crew). A person will have a throw bag on shore [at the remaining rapids].”

Registration will be held at Riverside Riders Snowmobile Club from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m., and the race will begin at 11 a.m. Paddlers will be expected to wear masks while they’re on land, but can take them off when they’re in their boats.

Deighan has been keeping a close eye on the weather, and said Thursday’s forecast has him smiling.

“They’re talking about an inch and a half of rain, and if that happens, that would be great for us. That stream comes up quickly,” he said. “It would be runnable [right now], but it wouldn’t be as fun. It would be hard on canoes if it doesn’t rain. With rain, it will be ripping.”

Other upcoming races on the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization’s schedule:

— April 10: Eliot Lamb Souadabscook Stream Canoe Race, Hampden

— April 17: Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, Kenduskeag to Bangor

— May 1: Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race, Houlton

— May 1-2: Kenduskeag Slalom, Bangor

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...