DAY ONE: GETTING THERE
It’s possibly the most hardcore offshore race in the world. The Karujet is a four day race around Guadeloupe, the southernmost Leeward Island in the eastern Caribbean Sea. Well, not entirely. Guadeloupe is actually two islands: Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre, separated by the Salt River.
Welcoming some of the biggest names in personal watercraft racing in the world, we wanted to cover this year’s Karujet in a way that has never been done before: from the point of view of a competitor! All weekend-long, The Watercraft Journal will be providing you same-day event coverage from the Karujet exclusively from first-time racer and last year’s UWP-IJSBA National Champion, Eric Francis!
As you might have already heard, Francis is accompanied with other fellow Americans and legendary racers themselves, 18-time IJSBA World Champion Chris MacClugage and PWCOffshore.com and Mountain Motorsports racer Craig Warner. All three athletes will be piloting Kawasaki Ultra JetSkis.
“The ski I’m riding is a 300X with a 310R head, free flow exhaust, Solas prop, and [aftermarket] steering with bars,” Eric explained. “Nothing too radical.”
Getting to the Karujet was an ordeal in itself. “I’m sitting with Chris in the Miami airport,” Eric wrote early yesterday morning. For his teammate, Chris MacClugage’s travels started the day before. “Macc was up the whole time. He passed out right after we took off.”
After a short stop in Haiti, the two arrived at their hotel, dropped off their bags and meet up with Cedric with their skis for a quick ride. “I’m supposed to hit the ocean today,” he explained. “I have been hanging with Macc the whole time. I need to make sure I am in top shape.”
“Oh, and I’m very excited. I’m not really too nervous as I have grown up in surf racing. I feel very good and think I will be able to leave my mark in my first year out here. Luck has a lot to do with a race this long and hard, but I feel I’ll make America proud that I was chosen to represent our country.”
As for the next few days, Eric wrote, “The rider’s meeting is tomorrow at 10am at the Beach Viard Restaurant. We took the skis out yesterday and will do a longer ride today.”
DAY TWO: GETTING STARTED
After a long day of getting situated, a break-in ride and dinner, Eric finally made it back to his room. Despite waiting it out, grappling with technology outside of the States continued to plague him. “I just got WiFi. It’s crazy here, bro.” Eric laughs. “My phone is being weird, so I’m on a friend’s phone. I’ll try to get stuff straightened out.”
Wednesday was the last day before the first race, starting at midday. Getting ready for the first leg of the Karujet was nearly as stressful as racing it. “Yesterday was a busy day,” Eric recounted. “We were going over everything, checking clamps, the quick-fill systems, changing spark plugs, fueling the skis and going through the tech inspection.”
Being a UIM event, Eric had never experienced the rigors of the international sanctioning body. “Tech inspection is pretty difficult when you don’t understand the local language! But every one was very nice and helpful.”
The language barrier makes being in a strange place all the more difficult. Thankfully, he’s not alone. “Chris [MacClugage] has been a huge help with advice, driving me around and keeping me in the loop.”
Eric continued, “After you tech the ski, they make you wrap it in cling wrap and put the ski in their impound so no one can change anything, and the ski returns to the impound every night after each day of racing.”
Because of the grueling nature of such an aggressive offshore race, safety is imperative. “Racing this event require lots of safety equipment such as a cell phone, search light, tow rope and transponders, as well as the usual stuff.”
With his ski wrapped up and in storage, all that was left was to wait. “I’m very excited to race tomorrow and plan to really test myself today against 80 of the best surf riders from around the world.
“Tomorrow’s race is about 50 miles with no pit stops and probably the easiest race of the week…although no race here is easy,” Eric joked, catching himself.
DAY THREE: GETTING A JUMP ON THINGS
The first day of racing was the shortest, and saw it go to local Guadeloupean, Lucas Granger, who was followed by Martinique racer Hugo Fidelin and America’s own Chris MacClugage.
Previous Karujet winners Teddy Pons and Jean-Bruno Pastorello followed closely behind, with Craig Warner in 11th and Eric Francis at 17th place, respectively.
Although the course was brief, leaving from Viard to Saint Marie, then up to Ilet Gosier and back to Viard totaling 60km or 37 miles.
Readying for the day’s race, Eric donned his new Quakysence gear, which came on as a new sponsor for his 2014 season. Afterwards, Eric was in pleasant spirits and charged for the next day’s significantly longer heat, which will come in at just over 87 miles, requiring a pit stop.
As of Thursday night, the points are as follows: 1. Granger, Lucas, 2. Fidelin, Hugo, 3. MacClugage, Chris, 4. Medori, François, 5. Pons, Teddy, 6. Pastorello, Jean-Bruno, 7. Karam, Vincent, 8. Vaitilingon, Davy, 9. Gounouman, Pascal, 10. Thomas, Vincent
DAY FOUR: GETTING INTO IT
Although the fourth day into Eric’s Guadalupe adventure, yesterday marked the second day of official racing. The day’s challenge took the competitors the second-longest course of the four-day race, from Viard to Saint-Francois twice – what’s called the Viard Circuit a total of 87 miles.
Former Karujet champion Teddy Pons took the checkered flag this round, with a 1:38-lead over the pack, as Chris MacClugage battled yesterday’s winner Lucas Granger. In the final moments, Granger was able to eke ahead of Macc by five seconds. This rearranged the scoreboard, placing Pons into second place in the overall, 16 seconds behind Granger and slightly ahead of MacClugage.
Unfortunately, the day was filled with tough breaks both literally and figuratively, alike. Pastorello, who was in the top three during the early minutes of the race, was forced back and eventually having to back out of the day’s heat due to mechanical woes. Francois Medori lead the pack for most of the first leg but fell to an ignition problem. Medori eventually limped in at 17th place.
Mountain Motorsports Kawasaki racer Craig Warner fared worse, coming in at 34th place, with our own Eric Francis coming in four places behind, having received a four minute penalty.
“So today I focused and rode way better,” Eric recalled. “I started dead last due to water in the ski. I got it all out and past about 20 riders but then broke the belt and had to lip home. If the ski didn’t break today I would have been in the Top 6 no problem. Tomorrow is another day.
When asked about the penalty, Eric admitted, “I beached my ski too far up the beach after I broke.” Concerning how tomorrow is shaping up, Eric beamed. “The ski’s all fixed now and tomorrow will be my day.”
But Eric’s confidence wasn’t as solid last night. “This race is by far the hardest race I have ever done in my life. After Day One, I wanted to give up. I slept on it and came back much stronger.”
The toils of the grueling nature of the Karujet are playing on everyone, be them emotional or physical. Chris MacClugage was quoted as saying, “age was catching up with him and that he really felt all his 40 years of experience, and his knees, which have gone through a few operations, were really hurting. But that he’s having a lot of fun out there and in a good position,” according to Aquabike.net.
Eric concluded, vowing, “I’ll prove myself on the water tomorrow I’m sure of it.”
DAY FIVE: GETTING BACK TOGETHER
The longest and possibly hardest day of the four-day marathon Karujet offshore championship, today’s action saw some serious highs and lows, shaking out some of the most talented racers, elevating others and drastically rearranging the points structure. Fatigue, mechanical trouble and soul-crushing exhaustion filtered the field of competition by nearly half.
With a considerable lead over the pack, French racer Teddy Pons continues toward a second Karujet title as he leads Martinique rider, Ugo Fidelin and Alexandre Barret. Racing for two hours over 144km (89.5 miles) over “very choppy conditions,” Eric Francis climbed back from his rearward position over the previous two heats to an impressive 8th place.
“It was a crazy day today. It took every ounce of my soul to push through and finish. I had to dig deeper than ever. This race is by far the hardest thing I have ever done,” Eric said, exhausted from the day’s racing. “People were giving up today because its so hard, and these are the best from around the world!”
Thankfully, the gremlins that plagued Eric the day before stayed away. He laughed, “I lost my oil cap sometime during the race. I don’t know how!” But he did note, “The hull’s cracking from just riding. It’s crazy.”
He continued, “I felt really good about today before the race and my team told me they would love for me to finish in the Top 10, so pushed with everything I had to make them proud to have me.”
Eric’s success unfortunately wasn’t shared with his fellow American racers. Up until today, Chris MacClugage was the steadiest performer on the field, coming in a tight third place in each heat.
Unfortunately, Macc wouldn’t complete the day’s event. Eric shared, “ECU issues. His ski would only idle.”
Likewise, Craig Warner would be down, choosing not to enter in today’s race. “He broke yesterday with fuel pump issues and didn’t was to risk the ski today. He is gonna run tomorrow on the final race,” Eric noted. But that didn’t stop Craig from helping out. “Craig held for me today and did my fuel stop. It was awesome to have a pro help me so much.”
Eric continued, “Actually, he and Chris have helped me so much and I feel truly blessed to have them here to show me the ropes.”
DAY SIX: GETTING OVER IT
If you thought yesterday’s race tossed the Karujet standings on its ear, you haven’t seen nothing yet. Sunday marked the final day of racing, consisting of two heats of four laps around the Viard inlet, totaling a combined 78.5 miles for the day. Challenging sea state combined with riders looking to put it all out on the line made for some heated competition.
Eric Francis’ luck seemed to have been used up by yesterday’s 8th place finish, as the native Floridian suffered technical difficulties during both motos. Mountain Motorsports and Monster Kawasaki’s Craig Warner’s strategy to hold back from yesterday’s racing paid off, as the California-to-Georgia transplant performed his best for the week, coming in just behind Jean-Bruno Pastorello, in fourth place.
Pastorello came back swinging this final day and dramatically rearranged the scoreboard, as he grabbed a second and third place finish during the two motos, but it wasn’t enough to place the venerable racer up in rank enough to grab a podium spot.
Macc Racing’s Chris MacClugage picked himself up after a frustrating race the day before to come in behind his teammate in sixth. Unfortunately, the rebound wasn’t enough to hurdle the gap in combined time between he and the pack leaders, resulting in Chris earning a 15th place overall (five places above Francis’ 20th and Warner’s 30th).
As for the winner of the 17th annual Karujet Championship, the maxim “slow and steady wins the race” might actually apply – at least, as far as the “steady” part is concerned. Martinique’s Ugo Fidelin, who never once finished first on a podium the whole week (earning a 2nd, 3rd and two 6th places), rode strong and consistently all weekend. And that proved enough to push him ahead of Guadalupe local Vincent Karam and France’s Alain Tarzia.
Action and additional images courtesy of Aquabike.net
The four-stage event consists of a brutal schedule of four races: