Mauritius Ocean Classic’s going to be a cracker of NOTE!

Friday, 03 July 2009 16:30 | Written by 
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The inaugural Investec Mauritius Ocean Classic kicks off tomorrow morning at 10h00 Mauritius time (GMT + 4)...  Anton Erasmus lead the race briefing tonight and revealed his decision on the race course...


Decisions, decisions

For the race director, the emphasis must be on safety - and the question of the day was:

  • Send the paddlers down to the Le Morne channel with its massive breakers and wild currents? 
  • Make them come into the gentler Baie du Cap river mouth - which would leave them with an (unpopular) 5km flat run on the inside of the reef to the finish at Les Pavillons?

We went out in a 30ft launch this morning to see for ourselves how the Le Morne channel was behaving...

It was massive.

It seemed to me that the most difficult section to navigate was going to be the approach to the channel - the seas were breaking so far out that you'd have to be very careful to stay well out before turning right to come into the channel - and that meant paddling several hundred metres across the wind and breaking swells before you were even into the channel itself. 

Once past the main sets of breakers on the right, the channel looked relatively benign - but with relative being the operative word.  Dawid Mocke and Tom Schilperoord, who were out on their own recce with Spanish paddler Pablo Fernandez, confirmed that there were rogue smashers coming through even in the channel.



And there were incidents today...  Durban paddler Dave Gilmer suddenly found himself alone in the front of his double when partner Kim Parks took an unscheduled swim.

Beetle Bailey and Craig McKenzie attempted to pass Le Morne to go around the corner to One-Eye Channel.  They found that even with the runs, they couldn't make progress against the current that was ripping down the coast.  They turned back to come in the Le Morne entrance - and Craig came off his ski, losing it in the process.  The breakers actually helped to wash him in against the outgoing current - his fellow paddlers recovered his ski and he was eventually able to swim back to it.



The forecast says:

  • The seas will be smaller - 3.5m at 9 second intervals.
  • The wind will blow less strongly - 15kts
  • The wind AND swell will line up together from the southeast

All of which adds up to a (slightly) more benign day tomorrow. 

Depending on how many paddlers start the race (and rumour has it that the less experienced Mauritians are likely to pull out), there will be a minimum of one escort for every eight paddlers.  The Mauritian coastguard is also helping out with their flagship out at sea and several rigid inflatables following the race.


Decision: original course, coming in at Le Morne

And Anton made the call to stick to the planned race course...  the paddlers will paddle out on the placid waters of Souillac in a rolling mass start - with the top twenty seeds in the front row (oops - twenty one...  Mark "Ando" Anderson was originally left out of the top twenty after not having paddled the grading race on Thursday due to illness.)

They'll paddle out some 300m from the entrance to avoid "cemetery reef" - "where they take the paddlers who turn to soon" and then turn downwind...

The next 23km or so should be a wild roller coaster ride in the huge open ocean swells.

As the field approaches the distinctive shape of Le Morne (literally "the mountain"), they'll look for a finger of land extending to the left into the sea.  They'll aim the same distance again out to sea to start looking for the race director's launch which will be marking the entrance.  "Don't come past me," said Anton, "because you'll fall off the end of the island.  We'll be marking the furthest point you should go."

They'll then turn about 120 degrees right, angling slightly back upwind to paddle around the end of a second reef close inshore... 


Critical Section

This 500m section of the race could easily play a strategic role - catch the shoulder of a breaker on the side of the channel; catch a run IN the channel and you'll be 200m ahead (or miss it and you'll be 200m behind.)

The end of the inner channel will be marked by a red buoy - no rule on which side to pass it.  But the currents collect rafts of weed right there - and the paddlers will have to decide whether to chance a ride across the reef and possibly break their rudder or acquire a massive clump of the fluffy sponge like seaweed (weed deflectors simply can't cope with this stuff) or go around leaving a wide berth...

They'll be faced with a 2km sprint on flat water to the finish - with tricky currents to contend with... the closer you are to the beach, the stronger the current!  The further you are from the beach, the shallower it gets and the closer you are to the rudder-hungry coral heads!

Rob's pics from the last couple of days... and two from Oscar Chalupsky taken this morning.


Live Coverage

While everyone else is heading off to the start, yours truly will be setting up on his lonesome at Les Pavillons ready to start the live commentary at 09h00 (GMT +4) ...  Be there!  I'll be getting up to the minute situation reports from several of the escort boats and will be sharing the drama of what looks to be a classic race on the World Series calendar...


Anton's prediction:

Hank, Dawid, Herman, Oscar, Clint...  with the caveat that Oscar will need at least 200m lead on the rest of the guys by the time he gets to the flat water inside the reef!



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