Breizh Ocean Race (France) - Gale force downwind!

Thursday, 16 December 2010 07:28 | Written by 
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A lone paddler in Quiberon Bay A lone paddler in Quiberon Bay

The weather was extreme: 10/10ths cloud, 45kt westerly, zero visibility.  The UK paddlers had just turned around and gone home, their skis broken – on their car – by the force of the wind…

Seeding Races

The race organisers had planned to run a set of 800m out and back sprint races to decide the seeding groups for the main race the next day.  They held the races in spite of the conditions – but moved the venue inside Quiberon bay, in front of the National School of Sailing and Nautical Sports.

The sprints were held in knock out style: 4 heats of 15 paddlers; semi-finals and finals.

South African Bevan Manson was collected from the train station, arriving just in time to take part in the final race – and win it.

“Between the runs,” said Philippe Blanquet, “the paddlers appreciated warm coffee and chocolate we offered them on the beach!”

breizh ocean racing

Short Course paddlers at the finish

UK team - blown away

Ben Brown, Andy Blow and Ivan Lawler had decided to drive to the race, but hadn’t anticipated the strength of the wind – or what it would do to the skis.

“The wind was ridiculous,” said Brown.  “We were driving along, being blown all over the road, when we heard a loud crack.  I looked up and the nose of my ski was flopping about; I looked back, saw the tail was still rigid and knew that the ski was snapped.

“What made it worse,” he continued, “was that it wasn’t my ski – I’d borrowed it.

“Ivan’s ski was damaged too,” he went on.  “So we realised there was no point in carrying on.”

Race Postponed

Saturday dawned to the same grey murk – rain was pounding in, driven by gale force winds – and the race organisers decided to postpone the race until the next day, when the conditions were forecast to be slightly less hectic.

breizh ocean racing

Race Briefing

Race Day

Conditions: perfect!  Good vizability; 25-35kt westerly.

The first batch of paddlers set off at 10h10, with the other two batches 5 and 10min later.


From the start, the paddlers went 3km out into the bay across the wind, then 13km of perfect downwind paddling to the tiny island of Meaban, then cross-wind for another 3km to the finish.

breizh ocean racing

Race Course

“There were quite a few sprinters and marathon guys, all in Nelos,” said eventual race winner Bevan Manson.  “They all went hard from the start.”

But as the paddlers arrived at the turning buoy, the wind, howling under a black overcast, increased from 35kt to 45kt.


"Awesome, awesome downwind conditions..."

“Awesome, awesome downwind,” said Manson.  “The waves were quite big: 1.5-2m.”

He pulled away from the rest of the fleet, but headed off on the wrong line.

“By chance I saw an escort boat heading for the island,” Manson went on.  “So I was able to adjust, losing only two places.”

Manson wasn’t the only one to head too close to the shore – and a number of the paddlers couldn’t make their way back out to the island and were disqualified.


Meanwhile the safety crews had been busy, rescuing two of the Netherlands paddlers and escorting a Ukrainian OC2 back to the beach.

And as the race neared Meaban Island, a flare shot up – another paddler in trouble.  A total of 5 crews were rescued – testament to the tough conditions.

A total of twelve security boats kept a close eye on the 62 competitors

Sprint to the finish

“I just managed to pass the other two on the 3km crosswind leg to the finish,” said Manson, who finished in 1:16, winning 2,300 euros for his efforts.  Yannick Laousse (FR) was second, 22sec behind with 2010 French Surfski Champion Benoit Le Roux in third, 26sec further back.

Andre Santos (Portugal/Nelo) arrived in fifth position having also taken an inshore line on the downwind leg.

breizh ocean racing

Over the top organisation – but in a good way!

“The organisation was unbelievable,” said Manson.  “Over the top – but in a good way.  From the security to the weather forecasts, printed google maps showing the course; shuttle buses to take us to the start and from the finish…"

breizh ocean racing

“The manufacturers too were there in a big way – Nelo and Epic with buses with trailers, equipment, spares, you name it.”

Great Race

“I can write that all paddlers said us that it was a great race,” said Philippe Blanquet,  “and a great event (I’ve got a lot of  mails!), the time window and conditions were perfect for the race, and they loved the organization and hospitality… and of course it was a great pleasure for us, for this first international race in France!”

For more information

Click here for the race website

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