Cape Point Challenge 2005 - Personal Story

Sunday, 18 December 2005 11:48 | Written by 
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Cape Town, South Africa: 17 Dec 2005 

Trained and Anxious

Photo: Alain JaquesIn February this year, Dawid Mocke asked me what my goals were for the year.  "Well," I said, "last year I wanted to get to B-grade in Billy's races.  I achieved that in the last race that I did.  I think this year I'd like to do the Cape Point Challenge."

 

The training started in earnest in March.  Interim goals were to do the Scottburgh to Brighton race (July) and the Dolphin Coast Challenge (October) in Natal.  July and August were written off after I injured my shoulder at the Scottburgh to Brighton, (and I never made it the Dolphin Coast).  

But since the beginning of March I'd covered over 2000km in some 215hrs of training.  Mostly paddling, a little swimming and some running.  We'd done a number of paddles longer 30km and two trips longer than 50km including a paddle around Cape Point on the race course.  In terms of mileage I was ready.

The training wound down the week before the race when training sessions were replaced by trips to weather forecast sites on the Internet.  It became obvious quite early in the week that we were in for some big swell.  A storm in the Southern Atlantic had sent a pulse of massive waves towards South Africa which was due to arrive in early hours of race day.  By 8am, when the fleet would be at Cape Point, the waves were forecast to be over 5m in height.  

During our practise run 5 weeks before, we'd gone through waves some 2.5 to 3m in height and that had been challenging enough, with several of the chaps repeatedly falling off their skis.  The thought of tackling waves of more than twice the power was daunting.

Course Recce

On our training sheets, Dawid had written, "Friday: tripping in the SW reefs".  We met at Fish Hoek and drove in a convoy down to Cape Maclear, just west of Cape Point.  The waves were supposed to be about 2.5m in height, but it was low tide (as it would be on race day) and the rocky shore was being pounded by 3-4ft breakers.  I could see that Dawid was desperate to get out to "feel the water", but it was just no-go.  He said that we could probably get out through the waves but coming in, the skis would be uncontrollable and would probably end being smashed on the rocks.

With a heightened sense of anticipation (read "fear and trepidation"), we returned to Fish Hoek, where paddling buddy Damian and I took a light tap out to the Clan Stuart wreck and back.

Course Change

Friday evening and the Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club was abuzz with rumours. Paddlers were milling around, checking their starting batches on the notice boards.  Rumour became fact as Peter Cole, the race safety officer, announced the course change.  The forecast 5m swell combined with a strong south westerly side-wind meant that he had to change the course.  Similar, but less violent conditions two years ago had left much of the fleet "out of their depth" he said, and this forecast was for conditions twice as bad.  The race would now go from Fish Hoek to a buoy on the Simonstown Harbour wall, along the coast to Buffels where there would still be a compulsory stop.  From there we'd go out to Cape Point, around a buoy and straight back to Fish Hoek.

Although no-one questioned the call, the feeling of disappointment in the crowd was palpable.  As for me, I felt flat.  I was vastly relieved not to be facing the massive and incredibly confused waves on the Atlantic side, but at the same time I also felt the disappointment of not doing the "the real thing". The Cape Point Challenge is an extreme event because of the extreme nature of the course.  Now we were faced only with a long hard paddle - not the same thing at all.

Race Preparations

At home on Friday evening, I ran through my preparations.  Gear, food for Buffels, juice.  Should I send my spare juice bladder to Buffels?  Nah - I've never needed more than the 1.5l that I carry on my back.  Send a spare bottle though, just in case.

Ostrich fillet (with some whole wheat pasta) washed down with a glass of red wine completed the preparations.  

Start to Simonstown

Up at 04h15, to stuff my face with a large bowl of oatmeal porridge. We were at Fish Hoek at 05h30, almost the first there. Keen types...

Photo: Alain Jacques

The batches set off at 4 minute intervals; I started at 06h46.  The first obstacle to find was the buoy that was supposed to be "off the harbour wall".  It wasn't.  There were paddlers scattered all over the ocean, some close to shore, some in the middle of the bay, all heading in the direction of Simonstown, and all searching frantically for the buoy.  There's one - wait, there's another.  Which bloody one is it?

Eventually we could see a stream of skis rounding a buoy next to the yacht marina - nowhere near the harbour wall and, disgruntled, we hastened across to it having lost time and distance.  Rounding the buoy we headed to the harbour and along the wall towards Millers Point.  

Simonstown to Millers

By this time a group of us had arranged ourselves in a line.  I was pulling and cranked along as far as Boulders Beach when the next in line took over. 

Photo: Craig Dutton

There was a brisk little headwind and it became important to try to conserve energy.  In retrospect I think I started too fast - I should never have attempted to pull the group and I should have taken it easier across the bay to Simonstown.  

By now it was quite choppy and I found it difficult to keep station in the stream of skis. I also found it difficult to take juice - in the middle of a pack you don't want to stop paddling and it's quite tricky to grab the pipe, shove it in your mouth, find the catch and release it.  I took a few sips, did the clip up again and let the pipe go.  The end of the pipe, with the clip on it fell between my backside and the side of the ski.  I ignored it for a while then reached down and thrust it between my legs.

By now another group had come alongside us and our group amalgamated with it.  I found myself in that most precarious of positions - on the tail of the line.  Generally what happens is the guy in front of you drops back and then accelerates to catch up with the group and a kind of whiplash effect makes it difficult to hang on.

Sure enough, as we reached Millers Point, we had to thread our way through a reef with breaking waves on either side and I dropped back off the pace.  From here on, I was on my own.

Millers to Partridge Point

The sea was getting more choppy and a brisk headwind made for a slow hard grind.  I reached for my juice pipe again.  The clip was undone.  A suck confirmed that all my juice had drained into the sea...  an immediate feeling of panic came over me and I had to focus strongly to stop it and to regain my rhythm.  My seconds had spare juice, hot coffee and food waiting for me at Buffels.  All I had to do was get there.

Partridge Point to Buffels

As I approached Partridge Point, I could see that the skis were taking two routes. 

Photo: Craig Dutton 

The first, an inside line, meant threading the rocks close to shore and paddling across Smitswinkel Bay.  The alternative was the outside line, which meant going outside the furthest reef altogether.  I chose the latter course having experienced the confused chop prevalent in Smitswinkel Bay before, and not wanting to go near it again...

The chop out to sea was bad enough - big and confused - and the section between here and Buffels was the toughest part of the race by far.  Crossing the mouth of Smitswinkel Bay, I could see Batsata Rock ahead.  I should go on the outside of it to keep clear of the reflected chop from the cliffs at the base of Judas Peak - but all the skis that I could see had gone on the inside of Batsata, and taking the cowardly option, I followed them only to curse myself when I got closer and could see them altering course to head out to sea in a desperate attempt to get away from the incredibly confused chop.

Just before I reached Buffels, the top groups came through, leaving me in their wakes and my morale in tatters.  I hit the beach and staggered across to check in.  Whether it was dehydration or over-exertion, I felt utterly drained.

Buffels to Cape Point

Three cups of coffee later, a chocolate coated crunchy consumed, juice bladder half replenished, I set off again. 

Photo: Louise Mousley 

The break at Buffels made things interesting.  The paddlers in this double (below) mis-timed it.  Race over.
 Photo: Alain Jacques

Exiting the beach made for exciting photos.  This one shows Oscar Chalupsky, airborne.

Photo: Craig Dutton

A couple of photographers with waterproof cameras ducked and dived under the flying skis...

Photo: Alain Jacques 

Over the next few kilometres, I felt stiff and exhausted and then nauseous as my stomach tried to cope with the coffee and food.  As we crawled closer to the Point I had something else to think about as the sea became rougher and the headwinds became stronger and gustier. 

Photo: Craig Dutton 

As we reached the Point itself the sea was covered in streaks of foam and the gusts were so strong that they were whipping sheets of spray off the surface of the sea into our faces.  

The buoy at last.  Turning downwind, all the noise and violence seemed to disappear.  Ecstatic whoops came from the double ahead of me. A silent "thank goodness for that" went through my mind (or words to that effect). 

Photo: Craig Dutton

The Point to Fish Hoek

The run back to Fish Hoek was a comparative anti-climax.  The section from Cape Point to Millers Point seemed to take forever and the runs were hard to catch.  After Millers Point it was easier and resembled a classic Millers downwind run, except that there wasn't much wind to help get on the runs.  Half way from the lighthouse to Fish Hoek, the wind seemed to die altogether along with what remained of my strength.  A couple of skis that I'd held off from Millers, came steaming through and beat me to the finish.

Photo: Alain JacquesMy race ended ignominiously with my being dumped as I came in.

I was extremely tired, but happy to be home...

Was it fun?  Not really.  Talking to Dawid and Nikki afterwards, they agreed that this race was tougher than the 2003 course.  I felt that I should have done better - but perhaps my expectations were unrealistic.  This was an extremely tough race and I think I screwed up, not only with the elementary error of losing my juice, but also in going too hard at the start. 

 Will I be back?  You betcha.  And next time I'll have a better juice system, more spare juice and I'll let the youngsters do the pulling!

 

As for the rest of fleet:

Dawid Mocke lead the race from beginning to end, dropping the rest of the elite paddlers shortly after the start and winning the race by over 5 minutes in a time of 04:16:50.  An awesome result, confirming Dawid's status as one of the top paddlers in the world.

Thanks

 To Dawid & Nikki for all their encouragement (classic item from Nikki: "if you don't start training properly, you're going to do die a slow and horrible death during the race...").

To Craig Dutton for the use of photos 

To Alain Jaques for his photos which you can see on this site.

To my wife Louise for her encouragement and fortitude during the last nine months. 

Results

(Full results on surfski.co.za.)

The first 5 singles in were paddled by:
Dawid Mocke 04:16:50
Simon van Gysen 04:22:35
Peter Cole 04:25:23
Julian Callebaut 04:28:36
Oscar Chalupsky 04:30:36

The ladies race included:
Nikki Mocke (18th overall)04:51:21
Kim Rew 04:59:14
Michell Eray 05:04:41
Wendren Milford 05:30:36
Bronwen Hobbs 06:21:33

Doubles:
Joe Kearney/Edgar Boehm (jnr) 04:22:13
Pete Mote/Alan Shuddinh 04:26:18
Steve Cohen/Ken Collins 04:26:55
Alan Mills/Martin Coetzee 04:27:31
Andrew Ross/Andrew Torr 04:28:59

Mixed Doubles:
Philip Cantor and Antje Manfroni 04:42:45

Ladies Doubles:
Jo-Anne Hay and Lisa Scott 05:46:10

And my time?

05:34:34, 89/112 overall, 18/28 in the vets category.


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