Canadian kayaker Trevor MacLean claimed his 16th Kenduskeag race title Saturday in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 1 second. You might think his opponents would resent such dominance by the man in the long racing kayak.
Instead, Kenduskeag paddlers all have their own distinct race goals. Most aren’t vying for the fastest overall time of the day. They’re taking on competitors in a particular division, trying to beat their own previous times, or simply striving to stay dry and complete the race.
With 27 competition categories available, broken down by gender, age, experience and boat type or size, there were numerous winners in Saturday’s race. Rather than lament the fact MacLean has a stranglehold on the event, paddlers are content to seek success where they can find it.
In many cases, it’s not fair to compare the craft being used. All are designed for specific kinds of paddling and are configured differently.
“My boat is light and it’s very streamlined, so it’s meant to go fast and straight,” MacLean said of his racing kayak. “I’m just lucky to be able to keep it upright in the whitewater. The first 10 miles is nice and flat and I definitely gain a big advantage there.”
That’s a stark contrast to the 25 1/2-foot war canoe, “Kenduskeag Screamah,” that claimed third place overall. It held six experienced paddlers.
“It’s fast, but there’s a balance,” said team member J.R. Mabee of Bangor. “Like when I’m in the bow, I get a little nervous when we start screaming into some of the rapids.”
Paddling a canoe refurbished by Bacon Built Woodworks, the group nearly matched the efforts of 2021 champion and this year’s overall runner-up, Ben Randall, who was four seconds faster.
Randall’s kayak, which measures 19 feet, 4 inches, is considerably longer but more stable than the model used by MacLean.
“His boat is significantly more tippy. The drag is considerably less because it’s half the width,” Randall said of the challenge in trying to match MacLean’s speed.
The width to length ratio is what determines how racing canoes and kayaks are categorized, Mabee said.
Paddling a heavier boat complicates the effort, especially in a stream where there are lots of rocks lurking below the surface. Mark Risinger of Saco and Dean Redding of Bangor got through unscathed.
“We were far faster than years past. It was a good time,” Risinger said, noting that they portaged at Six Mile Falls to save wear and tear on the boat.
Their Old Town “Penobscot,” measuring 18-6, comes in at about 100 pounds empty. That’s a far cry from the tandem Kevlar canoes that weigh approximately 50 pounds.
“We actually put the guys that are in the racing class on our hitlist of times to beat,” said Risinger, who competed in the recreational division. “Even though we’re running plastic, we’re trying to compete with the Kevlar boats.”
River Robertson of North Berwick, who grew up in Bucksport, enjoys taking on the field paddling solo in a canoe.
“You just want to beat everybody, it’s just go as fast as you can,” he said.
His focus is on winning his division, but the former U.S. Marine draws motivation from pursuing paddlers in other classes.
“It is fun to be in a boat that you know is slower and beat guys that are in fast boats,” Robertson said, “like beating someone in a racing boat when you’re in an aluminum canoe.”
University of Maine students Chris Erb of Bangor and Tommy Thelander of Bangor embraced that very challenge during Saturday’s race, which was the first for either man.
Their chosen means of attacking the Kenduskeag was an aluminum Grumman canoe, which may have been the only metal boat in the entire field.
Despite being wet and cold, Erb was excited about completing the race in what is a nearly obsolete canoe.
“It’s been around forever, but it’s a great boat for me. I grew up with it,” he said.