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Paddlers enjoy sunshine, calm river during 5th annual Grand Isle race

MADAWASKA, Maine — Kayaks and canoes raced down the St. John River Saturday morning as 27 people participated in the 5th Annual Greater Grand Isle Canoe Kayak Race.

Kendra Furber refuels mid-paddle in her kayak Saturday during the 5th Annual Greater Grand Isle Canoe Kayak Race. (Morgan Mitchell | SJVT/FhF)

The race over the Father’s Day weekend landed on one of the warmest days in the Valley this season, with temperatures hovering around 80 degrees. Despite the warm air, however, the National Weather Service issued a “cold water safety message” Saturday morning, warning northern Mainers against spending extended periods of time in the water. According to the message, the warm air could have caused “people to underestimate the dangers of the cold water temperatures,” which were in the upper 50s and lower 60s and could cause hypothermia to anyone immersed for too long.

The warning did not deter any of the participants, but they all took precautions to wear life jackets. The race was comprised of 20 vessels of various types, including individual and doubles kayaks, racing canoes and larger canoes for multiple riders.

The race began at the Madawaska boat landing, where the racers entered the water one by one and raced against the clock and other racers 10 miles down the river to the Grand Isle boat landing. Most participants enjoyed a comfortable three hour pace with the current on a calm St. John River.

Ethan Hassell eagerly awaits the signal to start the kayak race, while sitting in his “lucky kayak” on the boat landing. (Morgan Mitchell | SJVT/FhF)

Among the racers were family teams, individuals, and even children. Both Ethan, 11, and Alex, 13, Hassell entered the race, accompanied by their father, Ben. This was Ethan’s first year to row solo. Every one of the Hassell boys operated their own, individual kayak, while mother Jennifer drove them all there.

Alex won first place in the children’s category the first year he entered the race on his own. This year, he defended his title and took home the first place trophy in the same category. His younger brother Ethan also took home a trophy — for coming in last overall.

“I’m proud of getting last place,” Ethan said, clutching his trophy.

“You only really lose if you don’t participate,” his mom said, after the awards ceremony.

Family, friends, and finishers wait at the finish line on the St. John River to cheer on incoming racers Saturday during the 5th Annual Greater Grand Isle Canoe Kayak Race. (Morgan Mitchell | SJVT/FhF)

David McCrossin won first place for the racing canoe category this year. It was only his third year participating in the Grand Isle race, but McCrossin is no stranger to canoe races and has been in several all over the state. While he made it clear that he primarily canoes for the exercise, he admitted that there is a benefit to participating in a larger race.

“It is so much fun to be around people, the more people the more fun,” McCrossin said. “Although you’re racing, you can still talk.”

Kayak and canoe racers gather on shore of the St. John River before the start of the 5th Annual Greater Grand Isle Canoe Kayak Race Saturday morning. (Morgan Mitchell | SJVT/FhF)

After the race, while the organizers tallied up the times and scored the racers, participants and their cheering squads got a chance to chow down on local food from the Maine-ly Meat’n Potatoes food truck. This was the third year that the restaurant and food truck has been designated to be the fuel to replenish the energy of the weary racers at the finish line.

Daniel Dionne, owner of the mobile eatery, also is among the kayak race organizers. He said he was happy to be part of this event for a third year, and that “the race keeps growing year after year.”

For more information, and race results, visit the Greater Grand Isle Annual Canoe Kayak Race on Facebook.

Follow Morgan Mitchell on Twitter @TheMaineMorgan

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