All set for 2013 Mauritius Ocean Classic

Friday, 28 June 2013 19:09 | Written by 
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A paddler heads towards the distinctive shape of the Le Morne Brabant Mountain A paddler heads towards the distinctive shape of the Le Morne Brabant Mountain

The 2013 MOC will run tomorrow, Saturday, 28 June.  The race is scheduled to start at 11am but may be pushed out to 12 if the wind is strenthening from the forecast 7-8kt.  (It’s ironic of course that the ESE trade winds have been blowing a steady 18-22kt for the last month, and it’s only now during the three day race window that it’s decided to take a break.  C’est la vie!)

Le Morne

Ask anyone about the MOC and sooner or later the discussion turns to the channel through the reef at the southwest tip of the island – known as the Le Morne Gap.

(The Le Morne Brabant Mountain, which looms above the reef, has a melancholy history.  Legend has it that the mountain was a retreat for runaway slaves who, when faced with recapture threw themselves off the sheer cliffs of Le Morne Brabant to their deaths.)

Tomorrow the mountain will guide paddlers as they approach the channel – look at the line of trees to the left of the mountain, silhouetted against horizon.  Aim that distance again offshore and you’ll get to the tip of the reef where you turn diagonally back towards the shore and the final 2km grind through the flat water to the finish.

So why does Le Morne feature so prominently in paddlers’ war stories? 

It’s all about the prevailing open ocean swells that roll in from the southwest – when it’s big, veritable mountains of water rear up to explode in mighty crashing eruptions of spray on the reef either side of the channel.  It’s majestic – and extremely intimidating.  You can hear the roar of the breakers from kilometers away.

Hank McGregor

Hank McGregor about to take off - in the Le Morne Channel

In fact there’s a wide gap between the surf – but there’s a shallow shelf in the middle of the channel that causes the incoming waves to jack up, and occasionally break.  (Of course the race bypasses the channel in unsafe conditions, but it’s always a thought – and as the back of your ski lifts, that thought becomes, is this it, am I about to be taken out by a 5m mountain?!)

Game changer

For the elite paddlers of course, Le Morne presents an opportunity to change the game.  Catch the shoulder of one of the big waves in the right spot and you can ride it right through the channel, making up 200m or more on your rivals. 

For the weekend warriors, well, shall we say it provides something of a poke to the adrenal glands – just what you need to power you to the finish!

The Race Course

The race starts up the coast on a beach in a tree lined, circular bay called “Sancho”.  It’s an easy, protected entry, with plenty of space for the deep-water start.  At the sound of the horn, it’s a sprint out to sea, just far enough to clear the reef on the right, then it’s turn right and you’re off, downwind, in an easterly direction along the south coast of the island.

Race Course 2013

2013 Mauritius Ocean Classic

Currents and Decisions

So now it’s decision time: do you head offshore to try and avoid the currents that swirl in a westerly direction, or do you ride the waves just seaward of the reefs, where they jack up?

And the current varies; sometimes it’s actually stronger offshore and the inshore paddlers get a double advantage. 

Best make sure that cover the bunch around you and don’t get too far away from them.

Le Morne

As you get closer to Le Morne, the reef takes a turn to the left and extends quite far out to sea.  From a long way out though, you can see what looks like a sand spit with a line of trees that extends seawards from the base of the mountain.  Estimate the same distance to the left again and head for that point – that’s where you’ll find the tip of the reef. 

Work left earlier rather than later.

In 2009, in the first year of the race, a crazy Aussie, Jonathan Crowe, took a massive gamble and paddled across the reef to cut the corner; South African Barry Lewin followed him.  The gamble paid off in a big way – both men made up about 10 places, Lewin ending up fourth, Crowe fifth overall.

No more – cutting across the reef was banned by the subsequent race directors on safety grounds.

Flat out sprint

Once through the channel, the paddlers are faced with a shallow, utterly flat 2km grind to the finish at Les Pavillons.  An ability to finish hard is definitely an asset.

History

2009

In first race back in 2009, the conditions were perfect – it was downwind all the way, Le Morne was massive and Hank McGregor and Clint Pretorius were first through the gap.  They both picked up weed on their rudders, but were far enough ahead to stop, clear each other’s rudders and then have their own private sprint race to the end.  McGregor took the race.

Michelle Eder

Michelle Eder (Pic Barbara Yendell)

In the women's section, Michele Eray and Michelle Eder (both from South Africa) had a ding dong fight with a sprint finish.  Eray took the race by a second.

Click here for the race report

Click here for Joe Glickman's story (with video)

2010

McGregor took the 2010 race too, putting in an unbelievable interval to move from 150m behind the front bunch to 150m in front of the bunch – in hot, flat conditions. As the lead pack turned just after the start, they cut across the reef and punched through a surprise wave that resulted in one of the most spectacular photos ever!

 Punching through

Punching through - just after the start of the 2010 race

Nikki Mocke dominated the women's race, beating Ruth Highman who took a swim in the Le Morne channel

Click here for the race report, the sequence of pics from the punch-through and the video

2011

In 2011, a highly unusual weather system send a 10-15kt northwester swirling around the island.  The race started at Flic en Flac on the west coast and ended at the usual spot near Les Pavillons.  Dawid Mocke charged from the start, dropping the rest of the field and winning by over two minutes from Aussie Bruce Taylor.

 Ruth Highman

Ruth Highman cruised home to take the women's title

Click here for the race report

2012

In 2012, Hank McGregor was back after missing the 2011 event.  He and Jeremy Cotter were the form paddlers – but in the flat, hot conditions Dawid Mocke worked every tiny bump and surged into an unbeatable lead through Le Morne; Cotter overtaking a tiring McGregor on the flat to take second.

Ruth Highman won the women's event again, beating newcomer Angie Mouden (France).

Dawid Mocke

A highly agitated Dawid Mocke, just before being kissed by Miss Brazil!

Click here for the race report

And what of 2013?

In the absence of the top Aussie paddlers, it’s pretty certain that a South African will win this year’s race.  But the competition will be as fierce as ever.

The forecast is a bit grim.  After weeks of steady 18-22kt ESE trade winds, there's a 8-9kt breeze predicted.  Hopefully it'll kick up a something, but it's not going to be a cracking downwind run.  Le Morne will be a sleeping puppy.

MOC-forecast-20130628

The top contenders (in my humble opinion) are:

  • Dawid Mocke: winner in 2011 and 2012; 2012 Ocean Paddler World Series Champion
  • Hank McGregor: winner in 2009 and 2010; unbeaten in almost every race he’s entered this year
  • Jasper Mocke: 2010 Ocean Paddler World Series runner up, quite capable of beating his older brother
  • Matt Bouman: often second to McGregor, but capable and well overdue for a victory
  • Grant van der Walt: training and K2 partner to Hank McGregor
  • Dark horses?  Barry Lewin, Tom Schilperoort

Given the expected conditions tomorrow – little wind and small surf – Oscar Chalupsky at 50 is first to admit he won’t keep the pace with the younger paddlers (but given big downwind conditions…).  Look out for a great race between the Chalupsky brothers though. 

The women's race is likely to be dominated by Nikki Mocke, pushed by two time winner Ruth Highman.  

Updates will be posted to the race Facebook page, click here:


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