I have completed the Cape Point Challenge 6 times in the past. 3 x on single and 3 x on double ski . This years would be my most memorable.
You can never say you are completely prepared for the toughest one day race in the world. Not only is it long at 34 miles, but the conditions are grueling . The normal course starts on the Atlantic side of the cape peninsula with a 2 -3 hour headwind, massive swell, breaking reefs and the never ending thought of the man in the gray suit ( sharks). After rounding Cape Point ( Cape of Storms ) the 2 hour downwind run passes the famous Millers Point, Roman rock lighthouse and finishes in the small town I grew up in Fish Hoek .
At the race briefing on Saturday evening the race organizer Peter Cole ( Orka Paddles ) informed all 250+ paddlers (with some relief ) that due to extreme wind and wave conditions on the Atlantic side of the peninsula the race course had been changed to start in Simons town, head South to cape point , round a boat and then back to Fish Hoek. Not only was this going to cut the race course by a few miles but should give the paddlers some protections from the severe wind and swell. I was quite happy with this decision for 2 reasons , I was not very fit so the shorter course would benefit me and Secondly I have paddled on the Atlantic side in big conditions and it’s scary.
Race morning started out good . I was place in G batch, the second to last single ski batch to start. The “A” batch started at 5 am with a batch of paddlers starting every 10 minutes. The wind was blowing quite hard about 20 mph, my gps only showed 8 -9 km/ h . My goal was to take it easy to cape point then hammer home on the downwind .
Rounding the harbor wall before my first flip.
About 40 minutes into the race my right paddle blade caught some kelp,I tweaked my shoulder and I ended up swimming . After climbing back onto my ski I knew there was something wrong with my right shoulder but figured that the pain would subside after a while and kept racing .
After another hour the conditions got worse and worse . I was dodging blind reefs , turning into massive cresting waves, it looked like a mine field out there with paddlers swimming everywhere . I heard someone screaming for help and saw a women clinging to a broken double ski. There was no way I could help . I was doing everything I could do to stay upright. I knew there were safety boats out there and help would come soon . I continued cautiously through the minefield and finally reached Buffels Bay where a NSRI ( national sea rescue institute ) boat was anchored. As I approached members shouted to me the race had been shortened and they were the turning marker. I was quite relieved as there would have been at least another hour to Cape Point . My GPS showed 2 hour and 20 minutes. I thought to myself now for the fun part, downwind .
Everything was going fine except a large breaking swell kept hitting me on my right rear . My speed was up and I was averaging 6:30min / mile. Suddenly a large wave hit the tail of my ski and I did a weird brace. I felt my shoulder pop and I hit the water. After the initial shock and pain and 2 failed attempts I managed to get my butt back onto my ski. I realized my shoulder had dislocated and popped back into place. I was quite scared and needed to be cautious from now on .
I finally got back into a good rhythm and caught some big waves connecting run after run. I even passed a few paddlers. The pain in my shoulder was gone. I could see Fish Hoek beach in the distance .
I suddenly did a weird right brace , my shoulder popped and I was swimming again . This time the pain was excruciating. I couldn’t lift my right arm enough to grasp the rails of my ski . I was screwed. I knew I had a dislocation and it wouldn’t pop back in . How was I going to get back onto my ski ? Should I just float until someone rescues me or something eats me !
I finally floated to the back of my ski and only using my left hand which was also holding my paddle straddled and slowly slid up the back of my ski until I could get my butt back into the seat .
I started paddling slowly and miraculously my shoulder popped back in. Under extreme pain and caution I paddled the last 20 minutes to the finish line .
I was in quite a bit of pain and went for a warm shower at Fish Hoek lifesaving club . While taking my shirt off my shoulder popped back out . This time it was out for good . It was the worst pain I had ever felt. A doctor on the beach tried setting my shoulder , but nothing worked . I ended up going to a private hospital where I was sedated and my shoulder set. Amazingly I made it back to the beach in time for prize giving.
I am very lucky I finished the race. Things could have turned out way worse. I am amazed no one was lost at sea . Race officials do a safety check before you are allowed on the start line. They don’t mess around.
They check for the following :
Race numbers on your ski for identity purposes
Bright orange decals
Cell phone with SafeTrx downloaded for emergency call and tracking .
In conclusion. Make sure you have all your safety gear and wear appropriate clothing. Paddle on a surfski you know you can do re entry in rough conditions.
If you want to have a great paddling experience go to Fish Hoek for 2 weeks and learn from the best . Contact me and I can give you details.