SKOWHEGAN — Professional canoeists mingled with amateurs at the 13th annual Sundowner race, where competitors for the first time traded in two-seat canoes for 12-seat war canoes.

The skill range of the 66 canoeists who participated in the race Thursday evening included a group of New Balance workers who heard the words “war canoes” and thought the event sounded like a fun start to the weekend.

Galen Jones said he and the other workers heard about the race a few hours before the start and agreed it would be a fun kickstart to their vacations.

“We were all getting ready for vacation and just thought that sounded like fun,” he said.

After a round of “Oh, Canada” and some light banter between the racers, the five canoes took off. The group of New Balance workers turned back halfway along the six-mile stretch but still maintained they enjoyed the race.

Two friends from Harmony, Bob Miller and Steve LaCasse, said they competed in the Sundowner Race in previous years and enjoyed the war canoes because of the camaraderie and the friendly competition of the race.

“We’re all good friends when we come down and we’re all friends again when we get back out of the water,” he said.

Miller said trying to turn the large boats “can be like turning a Mack truck” but said the crew bonds over the teamwork it takes to steer and paddle the canoes efficiently.

Bart Hughes, owner of Southside Tavern and sponsor of the race, said they decided to make the switch to the 28-foot-long war canoes at the suggestion of a team from St. George, Quebec, who annually participate in the Sundowner race.

The five canoes used in the race are part of a set of 11 used by the Penobscot Riverkeepers, a group focused on educating Penobscot River watershed and coastal communities about river-related issues.

Mike Maybury, a member of the Riverkeepers, said he made the first two canoes for a local Boy Scout Troop and the other nine were made for the Riverkeepers and crafted from the same mold.

The war canoes, also known as rabaskas in Canada, were used by Canadian fur trappers and American Indians. The canoes have since evolved into the outdoor recreation field and sports.

The race is part of the Skowhegan River Fest, the town’s annual celebration of living along the Kennebec River, which brings thousands to the area and includes live music, children’s activities, a pub crawl, free rafting rides in the Kennebec Gorge, a 5K race and fireworks.

The festival’s most prominent project, a proposed whitewater park in the Kennebec’s Skowhegan Gorge called Run of the River, is also making headway, said Greg Dore on Saturday.

Dore, festival organizer and Run of the River chairman, said plans for the project are on schedule and the modeling portion of the project should be done before the end of October.

In the modeling stage, which began last summer, project personnel are studying the effects the proposed project would have on the flow of the river and the surrounding flood zone. Dore said they need to present their findings for approval to a handful of agencies including Department of Environmental Protection, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Dore said that after the modeling phase, if the agencies grant permission, they will begin permitting and then put the project out to bid. Construction should begin mid-2015.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

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