Navigating the world’s toughest survival and endurance race

Published by Sarah Ediss on 4 December 2023

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Business owner Craig Sawyer isn’t one to shy away from a challenge and a conversation in a pub back in 2019 has resulted in him and team mate Scott Innes not only completing the Yukon 1000 from Canada to Alaska by paddleboard this summer, but also coming first in their class.

Known as the world’s toughest survival and endurance race with the strapline “pure Isolation, total exhaustion, self-survival”, the duo had to wait until 2023 to take part.

Craig explains: “We decided to take part in the race which is more like an expedition as you are totally alone and self-reliant, but due to Covid it was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 and frustratingly in 2022 we literally got to the start line, and I had to pull out as I had Covid. We were determined to make it to the start line again and thanks to all our planning and preparation, 2023 was our year.”

You can take part in the race in a variety of different craft as long as the organisers are satisfied at the pre-race kit inspection. Teams are not allowed any communications so all phones and devices must be turned off and placed in a tamperproof bag. Teams must carry all the food, water and equipment they need, and they are not allowed to resupply. They even need to have at least one bear spray per team and understand how to use it.

Mapping and navigation skills are vital, and teams can paddle for up to 18 hours each day, stopping by 2300hrs and resting for a minimum of six hours. Paddleboard teams such as Craig’s need to stay together and must be no more than 30 metres apart at any time. The teams must finish the race within 10 days, and they pass through only one city, so they are out in the wilderness with only their skills and determination.

“We completed the race in eight days thirteen hours and three minutes. We managed with around three hours sleep a night and saw a lot of bears, but to be honest we were more worried about a Moose walking through our tent at night. We also saw Yukon Lynx, Bald Eagles, Beavers, Chipmunks, it was just fantastic to be in the wilderness. There is no prize for finishing the race, just the kudos of taking part, although the organisers do give you a special coin as a sign of respect for taking part.”

“We had prepared meticulously, and we had a strategy, plus we did a lot of training which was all vital. Around 2-3,000 teams apply each year but only around 40 are allowed to take part.”

Craig is making a documentary about his epic journey and his day-to-day role sees him running Blue Juice – a film production company which he started in 2009. The business has steadily grown and they work for some well-known brands.

Completing the Yukon 1000 is the culmination of a personal journey for Craig. “Sadly, I had to deal with the death of my co-director in our first business, a Telecoms company in the early 2000s. It was with the help of Spofforths (now Kreston Reeves) which got me through what was a very horrible situation. The sudden death of my business partner and then dealing with the winding up of the business was really challenging. I have a great relationship with Kreston Reeves because of the support they gave to me then and to this day, I think they are not ‘normal’ accountants. They are very fair, quick to answer my questions and they are always there – it’s a great relationship.”

“Completing the Yukon 1000 and making the documentary is all part of life’s journey which I’ve been on over the last few years and I’m looking forward to sharing it. I took up paddle boarding and kite surfing which was part of the healing process for me and that’s how I met my race partner. I think everything that has happened has made me resilient enough to deal with life’s daily challenges, including those of being a business owner. I’ve got a great team around me now, which has allowed me to take part in the Yukon 1000 and I am looking forward to the next challenge, whatever that is.”

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