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05 Ultimate Downwinder 1500px


December 24, 2019


A yacht supported downwinder in open water Mediterranean is up there with heli skiing Whistler, or being towed into empty G-Land. But if the numbers are saying 50 knots and 6 metres, how much do you think you could stand?

Words  Corentin Lauret  //  Photos  Greg Rabejac

It was 3am when I heard Jeremy and Ludovic Teulade scrabbling about in the boat. It’s Sunday, the 12th of May, and the departure of the crossing is scheduled for 5am. The early wake up was not difficult for the simple reason that I couldn’t sleep. I laid awake all night. We are docked in the old port of La Ciotat, a city on the Cote d’Azur with vaulting cliffs that keep sentinel over the Mediterranean Sea. At 390 meters above sea level, the Soubeyranes Cliffs are the highest sea cliffs in mainland Europe. The wind blows noisily and without respite, rocking the boat. In my little cabin which I shared with photographer Greg Rabejac, I contemplate the challenge ahead. Greg is an experienced man who has toured the world to capture in digital the most beautiful swells on the planet. This is a man who shoots Belharra from a bodyboard, it does not surprise me to hear him softly snoring.

0400. I decide, after gazing sleeplessly into the dark, to get up. After performing a little yoga, the brothers Jeremy and Ludo take their breakfast, dressed in long john wetsuits. Julien, our skipper, did not sleep either. He would tell us after the crossing that during the night, he was seriously considering whether to cancel departure. Fortunately for us, the wind abated slightly when we woke up.

0500. Equipped impact vests with self-inflating CO2 canisters, and radio headsets with integrated head torches, Jeremy and Ludo embrace each other. Observing this intense fraternal exchange, I can see that the brothers are prepared. They are concentrated. They are ‘on mission’.

0523. We are still under the cover of darkness when Jeremy throws himself into the water. It’s a difficult start. The wind seems absent, barely 20 knots when the forecast announced 40. This lack of puff combined with a west cross-swell makes things complicated. In my earpiece, I hear Jeremy growling. “Puta, there is no wind!”. The team is worried but quickly reassured by Julien and Nico. Our two experienced skippers know that the wind will arrive with the sunrise, and after we’ve gone a few miles.

0618. The first rays of sun break over the cliffs. In a matter of moments, the wind rises to reach the 40 promised knots. Jeremy finds his line and is surfing big bumps to the delight of the crew who shouts of encouragement on the boat. The ultimate downwinder can finally begin! The wind is getting stronger and stronger. The sea smokes. The anemometer on the sailboat shows gusts at 52 knots. The troughs get bigger and bigger: 4m according to the police, 6m according to the other traffic. The first pressure point comes when Jeremy breaks a paddle. He manages not without difficulty, to come astern of the boat to try to swap it for a new one. A brief lapse in focus and Jeremy falls in, wearing his unlimited 17’ board on the head. Fortunately, the helmet does its job and after a second attempt, he gets back to the fight armed with a new paddle.

After two hours and a half hours of paddling in howling winds and cross swells, Jeremy passes the baton to his brother. The relay change is the second pressure point. Clinging to the sled behind the boat, seeing huge sweeping trains coming by him, Ludo is waiting for the right moment to jump into the water. At the same time, Jeremy has to remain on his knees, his board connected to the stern of the boat by a line, ready to throw the leash to his brother. After a tense but successful handover, it’s the turn of the youngest Teulade brother to have fun.
Ludo puts in a solid three hour shift of surfing, alternating big bumps (not without some trepidation) and the smallest bumps that produce runs of over a minute! “I had the feeling of literally surfing for 40km. This is without a doubt the most beautiful downwind of my life!” Ludo confided to me the same evening. While Ludo has fun on the water, his brother Jeremy begins to suffer on the boat. Electing to stay in his wetsuit in case he needs to jump in the water in case of problems with his brother, Jeremy gets cold. He decides to take a hot shower in his cabin (not easy in a storm …) and change. But it’s too late, his breakfast will be repurposed as food for the fish several times, and Jeremy will not be able to warm up. The third pressure point comes when Ludo and the board back on the boat. It’s time to take a break, recover and decide what to do next. 

The big swell and the strong north-west wind are pushing us towards South Corsica / North Sardinia. The initial objective which was to cross the Mediterranean, in the direction of North Corsica unil the sea becomes impossible to manage. After studying the maps, our skipper Julien is direct: it would take us between 15 and 20 hours more to reach the South of Corsica, an estimated arrival between 2am and 7am!
Paddling and sailing for so long at night would be far too dangerous in this type of conditions. Nature is stronger than us. After 6 hours of crazy downwind, under extreme conditions, the crew made the decision to stop the crossing. We head north to the first piece of land possible: the island of Porquerolles.

I ask Jeremy and Ludovic if they are not a bit disappointed. To my surprise, their response is as beautiful as it is sincere. “We have no regrets. We have realized a dream and this experience will remain etched in our memory … It’s been two years since we had this project in mind and more than a year that we’ve been working on it. The waiting period from mid-April to mid-June was short, and although we knew that the wind direction was not optimal, we still wanted to trigger the crossing to achieve the biggest downwind of our lives. It was an adventure.” SUP International

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