The Bellevue Ocean Race – is the Baltic the next downwind gem?

Sales and marketing manager at Mocke Ian Black took part in the Bellevue Ocean Race hosted by the Klampenborg Kajak Klub near Copenhagen. It was assumed that this part of the Baltic Sea would be flat, but as it turns out, the potential for downwind is a lot better that what you’d expect.

Here is Ian’s race report:

Rough Start

After a successful and enjoyable week in Germany, the next stop on my first trip for 2019 was Norway and then Denmark for the Bellevue Ocean Race. My departure from Germany got off to a rough start with train delays and cancelled flights out of Frankfurt. This resulted in me missing a connection in Copenhagen and subsequently my train from Oslo to Kristiansand. I picked up a chest cold over the weekend, so by the time I arrived (a bag short) at Oslo my sense of humor was at an all-time low.

When I eventually made it  onto the train for the 4-hour ride, I dosed up on meds and found some food. “Starve a virus, feed a cold” they say, and I did just that.

I spent the next few hours catching up on some work as we weaved through the stunning Norwegian countryside. Initially it had been  suggested that a flight between Oslo and Kristiansand would be the preferred option. There is so much to see from these long train rides though, I was happy with my decision to use the train

It was not to get sidetracked, 4 hours of stunning Norweigan countryside scenery from the train.

Settling In

I arrived at Kristiansand a few hours later than initially expected but felt somewhat refreshed after the train ride. My host for the next few days was Johan Heffermehl. Johan is the owner of Padelspesialisten and has two shops, one in Arendal and the other in Kristiansand. These are both proper kayak shops. Johan started the business in 1989 and between the two shops you will find anything you could need for kayaking.

After being shown around the shop and catching up, Johan took me to the airport to pick up my paddle bag which had since arrived from Copenhagen. We then went to Hovekilen to conduct the first of 2 mini-clinics. We met up with 3 super-enthusiastic relative beginners and after a theoretical lesson, hit the water to execute the tips I had given them. It was awesome to see these guys enjoying their Stellar S18S’s in the mild but chilly conditions. We ended the lesson with some remount practice, much to the dismay of a few.

The enthusiastic “beginner” group. We ended the session with remount drills.

Kilsund – paddling paradise.

I spent day 2 in Norway at Johan’s home in Kilsund catching up on work and trying to shake off the cold. His house is nestled amongst “summer houses” on the water in an archipelago, so I must admit it was relatively hard to concentrate on my work in such beautiful surroundings. Later that day I ran a training session with a bunch of “older” guys. We focused on techniques to help become faster and more efficient down-wind. As with the previous group, these guys were incredibly passionate about paddling and I really enjoyed the session.

I spent the following day laying low after a training session exploring the beautiful surroundings and later on met Johan’s partner, Hege. They treated me to a lovely home-cooked meal and great conversation.

The view from Johan’s dock.

On Friday, the day before the race, we departed early for Kristiansand with a stop  to pick up my race boat, a Stellar S.E.A. It was a long day of travelling, but the two ferry rides and driving through the Danish countryside was an experience I will certainly remember.

Race Day

The morning of the Bellevue Ocean Race was miserable. The super-forecast indicated that a fair amount of wind was on its way, but the mist and rain made it hard to imagine.  We drove up to the finishing beach to see if there was anything to note. I plugged in the GPS co-ordinates and we headed back to the start. I was up against the defending champ Gordan Harbrecht, and 2018 runner up and current flatwater marathon superstar, Mads Brandt-Pedersen. These two, along with my lack of knowledge of the course, were going to make for an interesting race.

By the time we started, the wind had started to pick up. The first kilometre took just under 4 minutes, which suggested that we were in for a great downwind run.

Gordan and Mads shot out of the gates at a blitz pace to my left. I cracked on but knew I would need to back off after a few minutes. Although the conditions were good, 26 kilometres is a fair distance and I wanted to save energy for the last few kilometres.

The Race

As we surfed along, I followed my GPS to a deeper line than what the other two were on. It was only after 8 or 9 km that I found myself “comfortably” ahead of Mads and around a minute behind Gordan, still on my inside. The further we went, the better the conditions got. My 1km splits dropped steadily from 3:55 down to 3:20 at the 23 km mark, despite the small surf.

At this point though, we hit a snag. I had come to the inside of, and had made up ground on, Gordan. He was moving across to the left having spotted a big orange buoy with a safety boat and must have thought that this was the finish marker. My GPS suggested we still had around 2 km to go (if not more). With the defending champ heading left, I had two choices- either play it safe and follow him into 2nd or take a gamble and trust the GPS. The latter option would see me either potentially get ahead or miss the finish and the podium altogether.

With just 3km to go I reluctantly diverted from my line to play it safe

I moved across toward the marker reluctantly until I noticed that Gordan had realized that this was not our marker. I straightened out and tried to get in line with him but our deviation had pulled us out of the better conditions. We did the final 3 km at a slower (4 min/km) pace.

In the end I finished around 45 seconds behind Gordan in a time of 1:41:19 for the 26,7km race.

Great Event

Peter Rhode and his team at Klampenborg Kajak Klub did an amazing job with this event which, while relatively new, grows from strength to strength. They have various course options and a flexible start time to accommodate the best possible conditions. The environment itself was perfect. Zero swell yet consistent wind chop of reasonable size made for a “safe” downwind course, perfect for all levels of paddler. I will stick my neck out and suggest that this race has the potential to be one of the best races in Europe.

This marked the end of my first trip for the year and my first visit to Scandinavia. I owe a debt of gratitude to Johan and his family for their incredible hospitality and support. A massive thank you to Stellar Kayaks for their ongoing support and for making sure I have only the best boat and paddle available. Mocke Paddling, Stroke2Max and Vaaka Cadence back me with support and the best gear.

Finally, thank you to my wife and two girls (and the rest of my family) for their ongoing support. It is only with this support that I am able to follow my passion and I am eternally grateful.

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