Team from Fort Yukon wins Interior riverboat race

Danny Martin
JR Ancheta

FAIRBANKS -- Michelle Peter gave her husband, Tony, a little encouragement before the Yukon 1,000 Marathon.

"I told him I'd be happy if he just finished it,'' she said Sunday afternoon at Pike's Landing on the Chena River during the ceremonial finish of what is considered the world's toughest and longest riverboat race.

Happiness showered the Peter family because Tony and the crew of the Gwich'in Warrior won in a two-day total time of 15 hours, 23 seconds on the out-and-back course from Fairbanks to Kaltag.

Times for the race, which moved along the Chena, Tanana and Yukon rivers, became official when boats reached the Chena Pump Campground, about five miles west of Pike's Landing.

"I'm pretty happy. It was a smooth ride and we had no problems," Tony Peter, 49, said after he and engineer Earl Mahler and navigator Prestley Peter, Tony's nephew, guided their 24-foot boat ashore at Pike's Landing while a few hundred spectators cheered.

The crew, all from Fort Yukon, gets to share a first-place prize of $15,000, and that goes with the $5,000 they received Saturday night for being first into Kaltag.

"It's overwhelming,'' Mah-ler said of the victory that consisted of a first-day total of 7:26:53 and Sunday's run of 7:58:30.

Tony Peter, a father of four daughters and an oil company drill site operator, is only a third-year riverboat racer. His victory Sunday occurred a year after his first entry in the event, typically known as the Yukon 800.

The course was extended this year because of recent flooding at Galena, which has served as halfway point of the Yukon 800 since 1972. Kaltag was the halfway point this weekend for nine boats which departed Pike's Landing Saturday morning in a ceremonial start. The halfway point is scheduled to return to Galena next year.

"I've always wanted to try this race and win it one time,'' Tony Peter said. "I was a little impressed that is my third try and I won it. The biggest thing is I never had problems, that was the main thing."

In past years in the Yukon 800, crews have often encountered high waves, high winds and rain on the course. During this weekend, the rivers were mostly calm and the weather was mostly sunny.

"It was like glass. It was a great run," said Sherri Kriska, navigator for Yukon 1,000 runner-up B-Bi-Bones Express.

Tom Huntington, an assistant race marshall for the Yukon 1,000 and a veteran of five Yukon 800 races, said it's a rarity for calm water to prevail on the three rivers during the same weekend.

"There's a 99.9-percent chance of that not happening,'' Huntington said. "The day before (Friday), it was rough. He's (Peter) blessed, that's all I can say. ... Everybody was blessed."

Mechanical problems, though, cursed the hopes of some Yukon 1,000 crews.

Joey Zuray and the crew of Buck Wild were running in second place Sunday when they reached Nenana, about 50 miles south of Fairbanks. Buck Wild then suffered a problem with the lower unit of its outboard motor, forcing the crew to scratch.

Zuray has gained notoreity recently as one of the stars of "Yukon Men,'' a reality series on the Discovery Channel cable network.

Last year's Yukon 800 winner, Tyler Huntington, and his crew of Miss Riverboat Discovery scratched Sunday with a mechanical problem after reaching Harper's Shoot on the Tanana River near the community of Tanana. Miss Riverboat Discovery was second to Gwich'in Warriors on Saturday night when the boats made it into Kaltag.

Two boats -- My Pleasure, captained by 10-time Yukon 800 winner Harold Attla, and Rolling Thunder, captained by Yukon 1,000 rookie Rocky Riley -- scratched during the race Saturday because of mechanical malfunctions.

AJ Dick and the crew of Miss Ivory Jacks scratched on Sunday because of an injury to the boat's captain. Shortly after the 6 a.m. restart at Kaltag, Dick's right palm was cut by the flywheel of his outboard motor while he was working on it.

Though Gwich'in Warriors wasn't beset by mechanical problems, its crew didn't take its fortunate status lightly.

It was the first into Kaltag Saturday in a total time of 7:26:53, but the crew didn't celebrate for long.

"It's never over until it's over,'' said Mahler. "You never know what's going to happen. We could have broken down two miles below the finish line."

After last year's official finish in the Yukon 800, the Gwich'in Warriors crew saw its lower unit fall off after they reached Pike's Landing. That incident led them to stress preparation this year for the Yukon 1,000.

"We had a lot more parts (this year), we were more prepared,'' Mahler said. "Last year was our first year and we didn't know what we were getting into."

Tony Peter was loading his boat on to a trailer Sunday when the crew of B-Bi-Bones Express arrived at Pike's Landing with a runner-up total time of 17:23:55.

It was the sixth runner-up finish for boat captain Tom Kriska, Sherri's husband and the Yukon 800 winner in 1996. "This run wasn't for a speed run. If you had the speed, good for you,'' Tom Kriska said. "It was mostly mechanical and preparing, and being ready for this."

Vern Stickman, the engineer for Kriska's 1996 title run, worked with the crew this weekend.

The B-Bi-Bones Express crew gets to share a $15,000 purse with other boats that finished by the midnight deadline.

Three boats were still on the course as of 7:30 p.m. Sunday: Moonlight, captained by rookie Raymond Huntington, Tyler Huntington's brother and Tom Huntington's nephew; Slo-Mo, captained by Sterling DeWilde; and Empty Pockets, captained by rookie Elijah Mahler, Earl's brother.



Fairbanks Daily News-Miner