Fenn Cape Point Challenge - Race Report

Sunday, 24 December 2017 07:31 | Written by 
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Kenny Rice wins the 2017 Fenn Cape Point Challenge Kenny Rice wins the 2017 Fenn Cape Point Challenge Credits: Rob Mousley, Cape Town Sports Photography, Owen Middleton, Romy Parker

As he followed Jasper Mocke inside the rocks at Cape Point, 22-year-old Kenny Rice glanced back, looking for race favourite and defending champion Hank McGregor.  He was nowhere to be seen.  “Game on!” Rice thought to himself.  “Hurt the guys NOW!”

Being the 25th edition of the event, the 2017 Fenn Cape Point Challenge was always going to be a special race, and the weather gods delivered almost perfect conditions: a moderate 15kt south-easterly headwind at the start that dropped as the paddlers came closer to the Point, but then (as forecast) rapidly gained in strength, helping them home with a classic Miller’s Run downwind. Elite batch starts

Kenny Rice (Think), Graeme Solomon (Knysna Kayaks), Hank McGregor (Epic Kayaks) and Jasper Mocke (Epic Kayaks) prepare for the start

Mellow Start

“It was a mellow start,” said Rice.  “No fireworks!

“I thought Hank might push hard from the start, but it didn’t happen so I just made sure to stay near the front anyway.”

The group formed into a long single-file line, each paddler conserving energy by slip-streaming the boat in front.  “When you drop back from pulling, the guys are quick to let you in,” chuckled Rice, “because they know that it’s the front 3 or 4 boats that do the work.”  Rice ended up pulling much of the first 15km.

Rice had prepared his game plan for the race, taking into account what his rivals were likely to do and reconnoitring the line through the rocks at Cape Point a few days before the race.  Nutrition has also played a big role in his performance this year, he said. 

It was only as the group was approaching South Western Reefs, with Brandon vd Walt and Ian Black sharing the pull, that McGregor and Jasper Mocke started to accelerate.  Rice followed suit and the group broke up.  “I’m not sure what happened to Hank,” said Rice.  “But when Jasper and I each had an energy gel and checked each other’s rudders for weed, he wasn’t around.”

The Kelp

Jasper Mocke and Kenny Rice hit the kelp beds

Thorough Preparation

Mocke and Rice had prepared together for the race, training together and discussing how to beat McGregor who had no fewer than seven singles titles (as well as two doubles titles), winning the race for the first time in 2008 and then every year from 2011 to 2016. 

 “In the past when Hank has dominated,” said Mocke, “he’s gone hard from the start. We knew that if we could stay with him to the Point then we could compete downwind.”

Mocke also spoke of the detailed preparation for the race itself: “Do you take 1l or 2l of juice?  2kg in the boat makes a big difference on the first 27km.  We made sure our weed deflectors were strong and securely glued.  The best rudder for going through the kelp doesn’t work when going downwind, so you need to find a rudder that doesn’t collect weed, but is long enough for the runs.  All these things add up, especially on such a long race.”

Cape Point Challenge

A double rounds the spectacular Cape Point

Having committed to helping his brother Dawid with a two-week downwind training camp in the lead up to the race, Mocke knew that his was an outside chance of winning, but he planned to give himself his best shot by getting through the kelp and around the Point in the lead.  That, he accomplished, but “there were three other guys who were stronger on the downwind.”

Tactics

After they rounded the turning buoy, Mocke headed right, hoping for an advantage on a deeper line down the coast, but Rice had a different strategy.  “When the wind starts,” he said, “it’s usually from the south, so an outside line wouldn’t have an advantage… and Hank always takes an inside line and I wanted to be there.”

Cape Point Challenge

Jasper Mocke rounded Cape Point in first place, as he'd planned

Rice hasn’t been beaten this year on the Miller’s Run, and if he could get to Miller’s Point first, he’d back himself, even against McGregor.

From the media boat, we watched the drama unfold.  First Jasper Mocke and Kenny Rice – then Nicky Notten came around Cape Point.  Finally, Hank McGregor rounded, close under the rocks and seemed to change gears as he sighted Rice in front.  At first, he seemed to be closing the gap, but Rice accelerated and as we watched, disbelieving, Rice simply paddled away, increasing his lead moment by moment. 

Cape Point Challenge

Kenny Rice overtakes Jasper Mocke

There was already plenty of movement in the water, the wind was just beginning to arrive – and all four of the front paddlers, Rice leading, Jasper Mocke on the outside, McGregor slightly inside of Rice’s line and Nicky Notten in the middle, were making the most of it.  It wasn’t paddles-down conditions, but they were all riding the runs, accelerating and linking sequences, working right so as not to be driven too far inshore.

At Smitswinkel Bay we timed the gap; Rice was already over a minute ahead.  It was clear that Jasper Mocke’s line wasn’t working for him.  McGregor had already overtaken him, some 500m closer to shore and Nicky Notten was level with McGregor on Rice’s line.

Cape Point Challenge

Hank McGregor passes Nicholas Notten shortly after entering False Bay

Wind Arrives

Rice’s arrival at Miller’s Point coincided with the arrival of the wind. The conditions changed dramatically: white horses appeared, the waves were getting bigger, and we could see that Rice was revelling in the runs.  Paddles down as he caught a ride, a swerve and a few swift strokes to continue the sequence and his average speed was up to 18 or 19kph…  No-one was going to catch him now and when we timed the interval at Roman Rock lighthouse, only 5km from the finish, McGregor was 3 minutes behind. 

Cape Point Challenge

Kenny RIce surfs past the iconic Roman Rock lighthouse which marks the half way point of the Miller's Run

“I was worried that Hank was going to come through,” said Rice. He kept looking back, but McGregor and the others were way out of sight.

Effectively the race was over; in conditions like this, no-one was going to catch Rice and he arrived at Fish Hoek 3 ½ minutes ahead of Hank MacGregor.  Nicholas Notten came third and Jasper Mocke fourth. 

“It was amazing to plan it with Kenny,” said Mocke, “and then to see him execute it so well.”

Cape Point Challenge

Kenny Rice won by a convincing 3 1/2 minutes - no-one in sight!

Rice became the 14th male winner of the event, crowning a spectacular year which included winning the Breizh Ocean Race (France) and the Gorge Downwind Championships (USA) as well as coming third behind Cory Hill and Hank McGregor in the ICF Ocean Racing World Championships in Hong Kong.

Kenny Rice's GPS Track

Kenny GPS Track

Kenny Rice's GPS and HR track from Strava

Kenny Rice's HR track is revealing: The spikes in the otherwise low heart rate indicate where some jostling took place at Olifanstbos and Platboom.  As they approached Cape Maclear and the final stretch to the Point, Rice and Jasper Mocke put the hammer down.  The section of high heart rate for the first 10km after the Point shows clearly where Kenny put in the effort to drop the rest of the field and his heart rate dropped steadily when he got to the last 12km Miller's Run section.  "My heart rate tends to drop anyway on a good downwind," he said.  "But I was also conscious of the danger of getting a spasm in my forearms if I pushed it too much after 40km."  

I suspect that another way of putting it is that his heart rate simply shows just how in control of the race he was!  He knew when to put the power down, had the energy to do it and is so good at downwind paddling that his speed stayed up while his heart rate went down.  

Women’s Race

For newly crowned ICF Ocean Paddling World Champion Hayley Nixon, back in South Africa after a triumphant 6-week overseas tour, the race was a pleasure from start to finish.  “I loved every stroke,” she said.

Hayley Nixon

Hayley Nixon - all focus before the start (Pic: Romy Parker)

“The launch was easy, which was a huge pleasure.  Last year there was a bit of a shore break, but this year we didn’t even get our hair wet!”

Her plan was to paddle conservatively for the first half and then, “paddle my seventh 25km race in the last six weeks…!”

The top women started with a mixed bunch.  “The guys started out quite hard at 11-12kph, which was a bit fast into the wind but fortunately they slowed down to a steady 10.7kph average.”

Split Group

The fast start though had split the group, and although Nixon was aware that Bianca Beavitt was close behind, Kyeta Purchase and Bridgitte Hartley were nowhere to be seen until…

“After about 20km, we hit the kelp beds,” said Nixon, “I suddenly saw a group on a line inside the kelp – and there were Bridgitte and Kyeta.”

Nixon moved across to join the other two women as they made their way through the kelp.  “Bridgitte was really strong,” Nixon said.  “I stayed on her tail and focussed on paddling efficiently.”

Neither of the women was familiar with the area at the base of the cliffs at Cape Point and after a brief discussion, they agreed to take a line around the outside of the rocks. 

Hayley and Bridgitte

Hayley Nixon and Bridgitte Harley round Cape Point

Bianca Beavitt

Bianca Beavitt approaches the turn buoy at Cape Point

“It wasn’t a perfect line towards Fish Hoek at first,” said Nixon.  “The runs were pushing left and I was conscious of having to work right to avoid ending up too close inshore.

Spectacular

“But after Miller’s Point we had 12km of spectacular downwind.  I was looking over my shoulder for the others but I felt good and knew that there was nothing more I could give it.

“Even the wildlife was incredible,” said Nixon.  “A seal came surging through a swell, saw me at the last moment and did a convulsive backflip.  I think it got the fright of its life!

“I had a group of penguins swimming alongside too,” she added.  “It’s such a special place to race.”

But when she reached what she thought was the finish, she was greeted by anguished yells from the spectators – she’d missed the gate and had to relaunch, paddle out and around the buoy to finish correctly.  “The buoys were set quite far to the right of the straight line to the beach,” she said, “and I simply didn’t see them.”  

Fortunately she was far enough ahead of second place Bridgitte Hartley that the mishap didn’t cost her the race.

It was Nixon’s second consecutive Cape Point victory.

Shout out to the NSRI

As always, a shout out to the National Sea Rescue Institute crews who gave of their time to escort the race fleet.  Surfski in South Africa has a strong relationship with these guys who are alway there with compassion and professionalism to pick up the pieces when we find ourselves in need.  

The casualites were minor; a single ski became too tippy for an exhausted paddler; a double broke rudder and another a rudder cable.  All were picked up promptly.

Cape Point Challenge NSRI

NSRI Station 10's Spirit of Safmarine speeds into Simon's Town harbour.

Summary Results

Click here for the full results

Singles – Men

  1. Kenny Rice 4:00:52
  2. Hank McGregor 4:04:23
  3. Nicholas Notten 4:05:08
  4. Jasper Mocke 4:06:34
  5. Yannick Laousse (France) 4:07:19

Singles – Women

  1. Hayley Nixon 4:43:52
  2. Bridgitte Hartley 4:48:25
  3. Bianca Beavitt 4:50:58
  4. Kyeta Purchase 4:51:48
  5. Chloë Bunnett 5:07:56

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