The water was fast, with tricky, challenging spots here and there, but that did not stop 55 paddlers in 37 craft from having the time of their lives — at least since the start of the yearlong pandemic — during the smile-inducing, happiness-invoking Marsh Stream Downriver Race on Saturday morning, April 3.

The day included sunny, 40-degree temperatures for the 27th event.

“Ideal water level and great spring weather made for a good turnout with record number of paddlers,” said Bill Deighan, race director. “Everyone was glad to be out racing again and to catch up with old friends after a year with no whitewater races.”

Watch video and see nearly 150 photos below.

In the usual annual event, Ben Randall of Sabattus paddled his kayak to the fastest time at 34 minutes and 14 seconds over the five-mile course (the traditional distance is 6.5 miles).

In another example of the toughness and fortitude of those in the paddling community, veteran kayaker Ray Wirth of Monroe finished with a bloody face/head injury after a scary situation later in the race.

"I tried a new line at the top of the final rapid (0.3 mile from the finish) and found myself in some rocks," Wirth said. "My boat was overturned and I immediately had my helmeted head slam into some rocks. After I exited the kayak, my ankle was caught between two rocks (a dangerous situation in a strong current). At any rate, I was able to extract myself from the stream and then to finish the race. Three stitches at [Waldo County General Hospital]. No concussion symptoms so the helmet worked. Grateful that I was able to get out without more serious injury. And very grateful for all the support and care I received from the paddling community once I reached the finish."

Masks and social distancing were required.

The event, which included canoes, kayaks and standup paddleboards, was the first paddle race of the new season and first in Waldo County after two other local events — the St. George and Passagassawakeag (Passy) river races were canceled for the second straight year due to COVID-19.

Saturday’s event, which traditionally includes a course that crosses portions of Winterport and Frankfort, started at 11 a.m.

Deighan said the course was shortened to about five miles and the start, as usual, was near the bridge on the Loggin Road. The course ended at the railroad trestle bridge on Stream Road.

The course included one Class lll drop at the snowmobile bridge, with an optional portage on the right. The other rapids were Class l and ll.

"Due to COVID, we will have no in-water safety crew," Deighan said before the event. "Racers are expected to rescue other racers in need. Masks and social distancing are required at all times on shore. Racers can remove masks once in their boats."

Traditionally, the course is 5.9 miles, which includes a flatwater section to start, followed by a longer and more challenging section with Class III rapids and a mandatory portage around Flat Rock Falls.

According to the MaCKRO website, Marsh Stream traditionally "is one of the most challenging whitewater rivers raced in the spring whitewater series in Maine, and the difficulty level varies depending on the flow. Although there are sections of flatwater and Class I whitewater in the race course, there are many Class II and III rapids with large waves or drops that make this section of stream suitable for experienced paddlers only. Especially when water temperatures are cold, those paddling the river for the first time should seek to join more experienced paddlers. Even those with experience on the river need to be aware of new blowdowns, which may create strainers at critical places."

Earlier it was announced the decades-old St. George River Race and Passagassawakeag (Passy) River Race, also held in Waldo County, would be pushed to 2022. Those races also did not run in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The individual results from he April 3 Marsh Stream event included:

K1 Long — 1, Ben Randall, Sabattus, 34:14; and 2, Ray Wirth, Monroe, 43:00.

K1 Short — 1, Hank Thorburn, Harpswell, 35:59; 2, Chad Robertson, Pittsfield, 39:21; 3, Matt Melcher, Bingham, 42:17; and 4, Thomas Beese, Bangor, 46:55.

K1 Women — 1, Leslie Gregory, Monroe, 40:37; 2, Jessica Sterling, Bingham, 42:55; and 3, Karen Francourt, Orono, 54:52.

OC1 Racing — 1, Rick Gause, North Yarmouth, 38:80.

OC1 Recreation — 1, Damon Galipeau, Old Town, 40:15; 2, Nolan Mabee, Bangor, 43:49; 3, Will Jeffries, Kingfield, 44:30; and 4, Anthony Viselli, Bangor, 58:57.

OC1 Women — 1, Ander Thebaud, Hancock, 46:15; and 2, Jen Adams, Westport Island, 50:38.

OC1 High School — 1, Anna Drinkert, Orono, 54:03.

OC2 Mixed Racing — 1, Clayton Cole, Corinth, and Linda Basilicato, Corinth, 36:50; 2, Angus Deighan, Newburgh, and Abbey Deighan, Newburgh, 38:00; and 3, Mark Risinger, Saco, and Allison Risinger, Saco, 40:57.

OC2 Mixed Recreation — 1, Jeff Owen, Orono, and Jen Acosta, Hermon, 37:51; 2, Nicole Grohoski, Oakland, and Noah Rollochr, Oakland, 38:16; 3, Desi Clark, Bangor, and Daniel Flammini, Old Town, 43:20; and 4, Nick Bambrick, Levant, and Jennifer, Bambrick, Levant, 47:53.

OC2 Medium Recreation — 1, Mark Ranco, Bangor, and Dale Hartt, Veazie, 36:28; 2, Morgan Baxter, Gorham, and Rick Farnsworth, Gorham, 38:28; 3, Ashton Mabee, Bangor, and Brady Burke, Hampden, 38:33; 4, Aaron Cross, Belmont, and Jason Cross, Hampden, 39:03; 5, River Robertson, North Berwick, and Justin Wardwell, Hampde, 39:35; 6, Brian Walls, Southwest Harbor, and Budd Williams, Southwest Harbor, 44:42; 7, Robert Hanscome, Trenton, and Adam Sawyer, Trenton, 48:00; and 8, Edgar Fondray, Surry, and Mark Caratorta, Palermo, 56:26.

OC2 Century (combined age of 100 or more) — 1, Terry Wescott, Thorndike, and Bob Martin, Holden, 40:38.

Open — 1, Guillaume Bourdin, Orono, and Charlotte Begouen, Orono, kayak, 45:35; 2, Shelby Helwig, Stillwater, and Nils Haenigens, Stillwater, kayak, 46:37; 3, Emmanuel Boss, Orono, standup paddleboard, 49:23; and 4, Dean Redding, Bangor, standup paddleboard, 1:02:08.