This year’s MOC, the eighth and the first to be sponsored by Investec Bank, had seen perfect conditions for the entire week – the southeasterly trade winds blew every day and the paddlers reveled in the daily downwind runs from Tamassa to Le Morne.
The men’s field included three-time champion Dawid Mocke (RSA), three-time (and defending) champion Hank McGregor (RSA), current ICF Ocean Racing World Champion and 2015 World Series Champion Cory Hill (Aus), Michael Booth (Aus), 2014 winner Jasper Mocke (RSA) and Matt Bouman (RSA), Mark Anderson (Aus) any of whom could make the podium.
The women’s race was also packed with stars: Nicole Leigh Russell (who had just won the Durban Downwind at home in South Africa), defending champion Michelle Burn, three-time champ Nikki Mocke and Durban stars Jenna Ward and Hayley Arthur. The South Africans were unaware of a dark horse in the mix too: Wendy Reyntjes from Geelong, Australia.
Overall, this was the biggest women’s field ever with over thirty racing!
Who’d be a race director? On Friday, a massive southwesterly swell came in, 3m/15s swells smashing and roaring onto the reefs and preventing the rescue boats operating in the unprotected area south of the island.
“It’s the kind of thing that that gives you grey hairs,” said race director Anton Erasmus. “We have a range of abilities among the paddlers and safety is paramount.
“At one point it looked as though we might have to race inside the reef.”
The Tamassa Reef Pass is wide and easy to navigate – but under race stress all kinds of things can happen… As Aussie Mark Anderson found when a wave popped up out of nowhere and the foamy
hit from the side, knocking him off and sending his ski careering into his neighbor, Matt Bouman. The two remounted, but Bouman found that the collision had bent his ski’s rudder and he wasted precious seconds straightening it.
Meanwhile Dawid Mocke had surged out through the pass at the head of the pack, immediately hooking into a couple of runs and taking the lead.
Behind him, Hank McGregor had taken a slightly wider line. “Conditions were pretty wild,” he said. “When we got to Le Morne we came together and I was actually on the inside when Dawid got eaten by the wave.”
“The downwind section was actually quite short,” he commented. “Dawid and I had paddled the course the day before and we agreed that we were going to have to leave something in the tank for the last section – 4km on small bumps and then 1800m into the wind and current across the lagoon to the finish.”
While Dawid Mocke swam, Hank led Cory Hill and Michael Booth around the corner and onto the flatter, protected waters as they headed north.
Aussie Michael Booth also had a swim, but managed to remount within seconds.
“The swell coming in through Le Morne was massive!” He said. “Hank, Cory and Dawid came together in that section after Hank came in from an outside line.
“Dawid got taken out by a freak set way outside the pass. I missed those sets and took a big one to the inside putting me some 250m inside the other boys. It put me in a great position almost catching Cory and Hank as I was just behind the reef catching waves, while they were out wide catching swells.
“I nearly came unstuck with about 1km to go with a set standing up forcing me to jump off my ski and throw it over the wave. I was lucky and it was easy to recover and only cost me about 10seconds. Cory and Hank were too strong and kept pulling away from me in the small grindy bumps!
“Yeah, it was an awesome race. Great conditions for the event,” he added.
“About 1km from Le Morne, I pushed it and managed to open up a bit of a lead,” said Hank McGregor. “And after that, I just tried to work the bumps and got further ahead.
“Le Morne is the turning point,” he went on. “The race jumps to another level of intensity.”
“What was nice to see, was the performances from some of the other paddlers like Barry Lewin and Oscar who had really good races. Kyle Friedenstein beat Oscar for the first time.
“It’s fantastic to have such a great line-up of paddlers; without them, the title just wouldn’t mean anything.
“It was a fabulous week with my wife Pippa and my son, Thorsten.”
“I’m very happy to have won my fourth MOC. In fact, the trophy only has two names on it: Mocke and McGregor so we’re thinking of changing it to the MockGregor Trophy,” he laughed.
Hank has had a pretty good month – four major titles in four weeks: Molokai, SA Marathon Champs, Durban Downwind and the 2016 Investec MOC.
Dawid Mocke was finally reunited with his ski when Mark Anderson arrived at Le Morne. In a display of sportsmanship, Anderson paddled across and held Mocke’s ski while the kite surfer who had been clutching it, sailed back to pick up Mocke, dragging him across to the ski. Mocke finished in 13th place, nearly 9min adrift of the winner.
Nikki Mocke lead Michelle Burn and Nikki Russell through the Tamassa Pass – but they had an unexpected companion. The unknown (at least to the South Africans) Wendy Reyntjes was also in the group – and as they exited the pass, Reyntjes turned sharp right, on the edge of the reef and close behind the breaking surf.
“She was on a serious tiger line, right on the edge of the reef,” said Nikki Mocke. “I just thought to myself, ‘who’s that chick? She’s flying! And… she’s gonna die!’”
The three South Africans diced wave for wave down to Le Morne – and to their surprise, Wendy Reyntjes reappeared next to them.
Nikki Mocke took a wide (safe) line around the corner at Le Morne, and the other three women disappeared.
“As for Wendy, I didn’t even know who she was since I wasn’t in Tahiti for world champs,” She added. “All I know is she is very brave and took some extremely close ‘tiger’ lines off the turn outside the start pass at Tamassa, and along from the old Le Morne pass to the finish. It paid off for her and she was super strong the whole way.
“I managed to catch her about 2km from the Le Morne pass, and managed to get a couple runs ahead of her there. After heading out deeper a bit as I was a bit shallow at the pass, I saw Nikki Russell and managed to keep them both on my tail as we rounded the pass.”
“It was massive and we were all quite close trying to catch the backline wave off the back since the runs faded out from the protection of the reef. Shortly after the Le Morne pass I nearly got taken out by a wave, and I had to paddle out to sea to miss it. I looked back to see Wendy doing the same, but poor Nix (Russell) just stayed on the wave and caught it in…
“I didn’t see the boat at the turn,” Nikki Russell said. “And I just panicked and turned over the reef 750m early.”
She quickly realized what she’d done, and paddled on the inside of the reef up to the actual turning point – but the race organisers had no choice but to DQ her.
“My heart was sore,” she said. “I was so fit and had worked so hard for it. But I will never make that mistake again!”
Meanwhile Wendy Reyntjes put the hammer down and inexorably drew away from Michelle Burn on the flat lagoon, beating her in the end by just 21 seconds in 1:22:41.
| Written by Rob Mousley