Inaugural ‘Current to Killarney’ paddling race coming to Georgian Bay this summer

Organizers say they hope the weather in July will be a bit more hospitable than the conditions they faced on the inaugural Little Current to Killarney trip last October, made as part of the launch of Manitoulin Brewing Company’s Killarney Cream Ale.

LITTLE CURRENT—Manitoulin Brewing Company president Blair Hagman and Killarney Mountain Lodge general manager Kelly McAree have partnered to create a unique experience on the waters of Georgian Bay—Current to Killarney Canoefest, a 40-kilometre race that may be on track to become the largest canoe race in Ontario in 2019.

“We’re hoping to create Killarney as a paddling destination, maybe even the Canadian paddling destination down the road,” said Mr. McAree.

It’s such a unique waterway to travel and both locations are great places to visit,” said Mr. Hagman. “It’s very exciting to see this come to fruition. I’m really looking forward to seeing all the boats in the water.”

The race on Saturday, July 6 will see as many as 12 Voyageur-style canoes—massive boats between 26 and 35 feet in length that can hold between seven and 12 paddlers—hit the water along with canoes, solo and tandem kayaks and OC6 outrigger canoes, for a strenuous trek across the open waters of Georgian Bay from Little Current to the safe harbour of Killarney.

“We worked with Rob Mellan (retired OPP officer, Voyageur canoe builder and Manitowaning resident) on the route, and when we organized previous canoe races we looked at the map and figured out what was the best route to take. We have a premier route and an alternate route in case the winds are high, to protect the paddlers.”

Plan A for the race is approximately 36 kilometres in length and will take paddlers from the starting line at Spider Bay Marina in Little Current under the swing bridge and past the Strawberry Island lighthouse. They will then travel along Heywood Island, across the big water a second time to Partridge Island, then follow the somewhat protected waterway past Centre, Badgeley and George islands to finish at the Sportsman’s Inn in Killarney.

Organizers say they hope the weather in July will be a bit more hospitable than the conditions they faced on the inaugural Little Current to Killarney trip last October, made as part of the launch of Manitoulin Brewing Company’s Killarney Cream Ale.

The poor-weather plan B route instead goes across the south edges of the LaCloche and Mary islands in Frazer Bay before dipping down to Boyle Cove and following the north edge of the long peninsula that extends as far as Partridge Island. When they reach Rat Portage, there will be a one-kilometre portage to reach Portage Cove on the opposite side of the peninsula where the paddlers will rejoin the main route.

Mr. Hagman has first-hand experience with the long journey and some of the challenges present along the route. Members of the Manitoulin Brewing Company team (including Mr. Mellan) paddled a Voyageur canoe with Canadian paddling icon Mike Ranta along the same route this past October to officially launch and deliver the first batch of the brewery’s Killarney Cream Ale.

“It all started with the beer,” said Mr. McAree. “Our relationship has grown since then to the point that we’ve become good friends and business partners.”

“We went through rain, snow, sleet and even a bit of sun on that trip. There were 20-kilometre-per-hour winds at our back which is probably the limit of what we really could paddle with waves that size. We anticipate much better weather for this event than what we endured,” said Mr. Hagman.

Racers will enjoy a celebration after the finish line and a dinner and awards ceremony in the evening. They then have the option of paying for either hotel lodging or camping in Killarney and taking a tour trip back to Little Current with North Channel Cruise Lines. Trophies will be distributed to the first-place winners for each of the boat types and there will be draws at the evening event.

A total of 125 people are able to register to participate in the event and 45 have already done so. For those who may look at the distance as a daunting endeavour, Mr. Hagman said the event was designed with safety as a high priority.

“We have OPP support boats and volunteer support boats that will be following paddlers along the way at each checkpoint. All the safety regulations and procedures are in place so that it’s deemed a very safe race to participate in. We also have Kattack GPS units on all the boats so you can track their progress online on the day of the race,” he said.

Anyone interested in entering the race is welcomed to register at CurrentToKillarney.com where all the event details can also be found. Registration closes on June 15 at 8 pm, but with one-third of all spots already taken, the event may fill up far sooner than that date.