The Teulade Brothers’ huge Downwind in the Mediterranean

Articles - 29-05-2019
oxbow, oxbow sup, sup, downwind, sup downwind

It’s 3:30 in the morning when I hear Jeremy and Ludovic Teulade getting up in the boat. It is Sunday, May 12th, and the departure time for the crossing is scheduled for 5am. The alarm clock wasn’t a problem for the simple and good reason that I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t catch a wink all night long. We are docked in the old port of La Ciotat, a city on the Côte d’Azur known for its cliffs that overlook the Mediterranean Sea. The Soubeyranes cliffs, at 390 meters of altitude, are the highest in Europe. The wind blew very hard all night, making the boat pitch and sway. In my small cabin, which I share with photographer Greg Rabejac, I am aware of the challenge ahead. Greg has a lot of experience, he’s been around the world capturing the most beautiful swells on the planet. I’m not surprised to hear peaceful snoring coming from a man who shoots Belharra from a bodyboard.

 

4am. I decide to get up. After doing a little yoga, the brothers, dressed in their long john wetsuits, are eating breakfast. Julien, our skipper, didn’t sleep either. He will eventually tell us after the crossing that during the night he seriously thought about canceling the depart. Fortunately for us, the wind fell slightly by the time we woke up.

 

5am. Wearing impact vests outfitted with air cartridges and helmets with a microphone and integrated head lamp, Jerèmy and Ludo, with heavy sunscreen on their faces, give each other a hug. Watching this fraternal exchange that is as mutual as it is intense, it is clear that the brothers are ready to go. They’re focused. They’re on a mission.

 

Jérémy et Ludovic Teulade

 

Jérémy Teulade, en mission

 

5:23am. It was in the dark, under the very first glimmers of day, that Jeremy threw himself into the water. The start is difficult. The wind wasn’t blowing, a bare 20 knots when the forecasts had announced 40. The lack of wind combined with a westerly cross swell makes for a troublesome depart. On the headset, I hear Jeremy grumble. “Sh * *, there’s no wind!”. The crew starts to worry, but is quickly put at ease by Julien and Nico. Our two seasoned skippers know that the wind will kick in after the first few miles, once the sun comes up.

 

Downwind frères Teulade paddle

 

Downwind frères Teulade paddle

 

6:18am. The first rays of sunshine pass over the cliffs. And a few moments later, the wind starts to surge, reaching the predicted 40 knots. Jeremy smiles anew and surfs the big bumps to the delight of the crew who yell words of encouragement from the boat. “The ultimate downwind” can finally start! The wind grows stronger and stronger. The sea is fuming. The anemometer on the sailboat is showing gusts of 52 knots. The waves get bigger and bigger, 4m according to the coast guard, 6m according to everyone on the water. The first stressful moment hits when Jeremy has a problem with his paddle. He manages, with some difficulty, to reach the stern of the boat to get a new one. A small mistake and Jeremy falls, taking a blow from his 17-foot unlimited paddle board right on the head. Fortunately, the helmet does its job, and after a second attempt, he returns to action armed with a new paddle.

 

Downwind frères Teulade paddle

 

Downwind frères Teulade paddle

 

Downwind frères Teulade paddle

 

Downwind frères Teulade Méditérranée

 

Downwind frères Teulade paddle

 

Downwind frères Teulade paddle

 

After two hours and twenty minutes of paddling, Jérémy lets his brother take his place. The relay between the two proves to be the second stressful moment. Clinging to the sled behind the boat, watching out for the towrope and seeing sets of huge waves arriving in front of him, Ludo waits for the right time to jump into the water with the towrope. Simultaneously, Jeremy undoes his leash, passes it to his brother, and grabs the towrope to complete a tense but successful oceanic transfer. It’s the turn of the younger of the Teulade brothers to get in on the fun. Ludo rides the sea for more than three hours, alternating between some frighteningly large waves, and smaller bumps that carry him on a few very long rides! Ludo, that very same night, would eventually tell me, “I literally had the impression of surfing for 40km. It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful downwind of my life!”. While Ludo is having a blast on the water, his brother Jérémy suffers on the boat… Deciding to keep his wetsuit on, ready to jump in the water if his brother had any problems, Jeremy is now freezing cold and not doing well. He decides to go take a hot shower in his cabin (not easy in the middle of a storm…) and change. But it’s too late, his breakfast will serve as fish food a few times, and he is unable to warm up. The third stressful moment happens when its time to get Ludo and his board back on the boat. It’s time for a break, to unwind and find new vitality before returning to action.

 

Downwind frères Teulade SUP

 

Downwind frères Teulade SUP

 

Downwind frères Teulade stand up paddle

 

Downwind frères Teulade Corse

 

Downwind frères Teulade paddle

 

The big swell and strong northwesterly winds push us toward Southern Corsica/Northern Sardinia… The initial objective of crossing the Mediterranean to Northern Corsica becomes impossible. After studying the map, our skipper Julien is sure, it would take us between 15 and 20 more hours to reach Southern Corsica. That would make the estimated arrival time somewhere between two and seven in the morning! Paddling and navigating for prolonged times at night in these types of conditions would be much too dangerous. Nature is stronger than us. After six hours of a completely insane downwind, in extreme conditions, the crew decides to put an end to the crossing. We set the course North, heading for the first possible piece of land, the island of Porquerolles.

 

I ask Jeremy and Ludovic if they are disappointed. To my surprise, their answer is as beautiful as it is sincere. “We have no regrets. We made a dream possible and this experience will remain engraved in our memory… We’ve had this project in mind for two years and have been actually working on it for more than a year. The waiting period from mid-April to mid-June was short, and although we knew that the direction of the wind wasn’t optimal, we still wanted to set-off on the crossing to undertake the biggest downwind of our lives. What an adventure!”

 

L'équipage

 

Crédits : Greg Rabejac.

Text : Corentin Lauret.

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