News from the Prone Zone: Cape 2 Cape Crossing 2017

Global Partner

The Cape 2 Cape Crossing is a grueling 14mile + race from Cape Charles Virginia to Virginia Beach. Paddlers face brutal currents and open ocean conditions as they paddle across the mouth of the largest estuary in the United States.

Cape 2 Cape Crossing Virginia
It’s not so much the mileage… it’s the current that makes this crossing one brutal course.

Cape 2 Cape Crossing:  Race recap by prone paddler, Alice Henley

“The true race does not even begin until the last few miles when the tide and current are really deceiving.” – Alice Henley

The 2017 Cape 2 Cape Crossing presented by Solace Sup was held Saturday September 23, 2017 with beautiful weather and fair conditions. The crossing begins at Sunset Beach in Cape Charles VA and crosses the Cheasapeake Bay at its mouth and finishes at First Landing State Park Beach in Virginia Beach, VA.  It is a distance of over 14.5 miles of rough, open water crossing.  Paddlers must complete the course in less than 4 hours.

Cape 2 Cape Crossing Alice Henley logistics map
Knowing your course is a requirement for a open water crossing like the Cape 2 Cape. Understanding currents, boat lane traffic and more becomes part of the strategy. Photo by: Alice Henley

Cape Charles to Virgina Beach:  Cape 2 Cape Crossing not for the feint of heart

On Saturday, twenty-seven paddlers of divisions including OC1, prone, stand up paddle, and surfski embarked on the crossing from Cape Charles to Cape Henry/Virginia Beach First Landing with an approximate race distance of 14.5 miles, depending on the line taken.  Originally, the crossing was set up to take place on either Saturday or Sunday for best conditions allowing for a downwind race.

“You essentially stop making progress.  Land is just a mean trick. No landmark ever gets closer.”

Most racers ended up with more mileage than planned.  I, myself, went over 16 miles. The true race does not even begin until the last few miles when the tide and current are really deceiving. I felt that I was still with the current, but perhaps the tide is what made it so tricky. Just to give readers an idea, I was averaging 11-12 minute miles for the first 12 miles of the race, slowed to 13-14 range, then the last two miles I averaged 26, and then nearly 40 min per mile! You essentially stop making progress.  Land is just a mean trick. No landmark ever gets closer.

Cape 2 Cape Crossing Virginia
Surf skis, prone and stand up paddlers beware of this s19-mile crossing where wind and current can add mileage to your already tough distance.

Eat a light breakfast:  Cape 2 Cape Crossing 2017

This was truly a battle for me.  Even after having completed the Graveyard Elite race in Carolina Cup, Key West numerous times, and even Molokai to Oahu this summer, the Cape 2 Cape Crossing takes the cake in brutality.

“The day produced a decent groundswell which fed my seasickness well.”

My biggest issue was seasickness. If you have ever been so unfortunate to experience such a thing during a paddle race, you know it will bring the strongest-willed person to their knees  (or belly in my case-which is not how I like to prone)!

Cape 2 Cape Crossing Alice Henley
A medal of honor: Finishing this race requires skill, stamina and a lot of mental power. Alice’s crossing was no joke. Photo by: Alice Henley

Cape 2 Cape Crossing:  an extreme mental challenge

In addition, the Cape 2 Cape was extremely challenging mentally.  I had anticipated being done in a certain amount of time based on distance and had estimated about how long that distance usually takes me. Around Mile-12, I started realizing I needed to ration my liquids, and that I was going to be in real trouble soon.

“The Cape 2 Cape Crossing takes the cake in brutality.”

This was technically challenging race to navigate, even if you were not consumed by nausea, physical fatigue, or other ailments.  A true watermans’ race, the Cape 2 Cape Crossing requires expert skill in reading the water and currents. Even with my background in ocean rescue, I miscalculated some of my lines.  I regret, now, not following my instincts.  Due to my inexperience of the course, I found myself listening to others or trying to sight other racers. It was exceptionally challenging to sight from a prone board mid-channel within the swell.

Cape to Cape Crossing Alice Henley
Alice Henley is a long time ocean lifeguard, a fierce prone paddler and all around waterwoman. If she says the Cape 2 Cape is challenging… it IS.

Swells challenging for paddlers to find shortest lines to distant shore

The day produced a decent groundswell which fed my seasickness well. On occasion, I would sight what I thought was a stand up paddle racer, aim for them for a long time, only to realize what I saw was a piling.

“This is a technical, dynamic course with the flux of the Chesapeake Bay meeting the Atlantic Ocean.”

The back and forth was devastating to my line and cost me significant time and mileage. But, I know I am not the only one. Many of my fellow competitors ended up tracking too far east, fighting the tides, the current, and riding parallel for too long. This parallel line caused us all to experience a great deal of side chop and instability. Needless to say, this is a technical, dynamic course with the flux of the Chesapeake Bay meeting the Atlantic Ocean.

Cape 2 Cape Crossing Virginia
Charting a course that a paddler sticks to is an excellent strategy in a course like the Cape 2 Cape Crossing, Virginia

Final thoughts:  Do your homework

To add to my struggles mid-race, I am sure I encountered at least one shark.  I was told by some folks later that it was dolphin.  But, the fisherman in the area confirmed it was definitely a shark.

Let’s just say after staring at water for 8-12 hours a day as an ocean rescue guard, I know a shark when I see one!  I wish it had been dolphin!  Mentally, at that point, I was truly struggling and feeling very alone. I wish to convey to any future prospective racers not to fear, but to be prepared for the course and wholly self-reliant.

Do your training.  Do your own homework on the course.  Know your landmarks.  Bring more water than you think you need, and Godspeed!

By, Alice Henley
Standup Journal online contributor
Ocean Lifeguard
Prone Racer and all around bad a*s woman.

24 of 27 racers finished

Top ski: Nate Humbertson

Top prone UL: Jonny Skolnick

Top Sup 12: Mary Howser

Top Sup 14: Bill Kraft

Top Sup UL: Brian Crist

Top female stock prone: Alice Henley

Top male stock prone: Josh Humbertson

Top OC1: Luke Rhodes



About the author

Evelyn O'Doherty is a standup paddle racer, surfer and yoga teacher from the East End of Long Island in New York. Her passion for watersports drew her to leave a teaching career to pursue her athletic endeavors as a sup instructor, racing coach, sup racer, and now, as online editor for Standup Journal. Evelyn lives in East Hampton NY in the Springs area where she has daily access to the water to train and teach. When the swell is working, you can find her in Montauk rattling around in her Ford Ranger surfboards hanging out the back headed for points East.

Please Support Our Sponsors

Advertise with the best

Harness the Power of the Largest Combined Standup Paddling Audience on the Planet!