IT’S been a baptism of fire for British solo sailor Chris Stanmore-Major in his first ever singlehanded race after he was struck down with problems while blasting along at more than 20 knots.
After a run of frustrating days becalmed off the Portuguese coast last week, the 33-year-old had finally been enjoying fast sailing in fresh conditions through the Canary Islands. CSM had hoped to use the favourable conditions to claw back some of the 400 miles separating him from race leader Brad Van Liew.
But disaster struck around 8am UTC when the fitting holding the massive spinnaker to the front of his yacht Spartan shattered and the giant sail flew up in the air, attached only by one rope at the top of the 28-metre high mast. It was the second time the fitting had broken in two days.
“I was coming down the eastern side of Gran Canaria with the reacher and the full main up,” CSM reported this morning. “I thought I had a good opportunity to get some distance back on the other guys, I was hooning along at 18 to 20 knots. Everything was fine and I was just starting to think I have to quieten all this down a bit, it was just getting a little bit too much. Just as I was thinking that a massive gust came off the top of Gran Canaria and it just floored the boat. The main powered up and we rounded up into the wind. At the same time the tack fitting on the furler, the bit that holds the reacher onto the bowsprit, gave way and the sail carried off into the sky, attached now only by the sheets and the halyard.”
The incident caused substantial damage to 60ft Spartan. Several stanchions – metal rods that run down the length of the yacht – were broken off and one of the ropes holding up the sail cut into the deck of the boat. CSM was then left with the dilemma of retrieving the sail, flying like an enormous kite from the top of the mast.
“I managed to slowly ease it down and I got the sail to drop into the water and then pass down the starboard side and then stream out behind the boat,” he explained. “Using a combination of halyard height and boat speed I slowed the boat down and increased the speed of the sail in the water until the sail caught up with the boat and I could put a line round it. I’ve got to get it out of the water and onboard. In the sail loft it’s 70-80 kilos of deadweight. Now it’s full of water and the boat is still moving just from the windage on the mast – it’s an absolute pig. It looks like my opportunity to catch up with the other guys just fizzled out and instead today has become another frustrating day of problems and going slow.”
CSM added: “There have been times since then where I have thought ‘I have no idea how to do this’. But you just look at the problem and really think about it and try to think of some smart way of using the bits and bobs that you’ve got to help solve the problem. The race is round the world, not just to Cape Town.”
CSM is not the only skipper to have encountered testing conditions. Brad Van Liew, at the head of the fleet, suffered his second knockdown in just four days after being hit by a freak gust. Brad, leading second-placed Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski by 43 nautical miles according to the 12pm UTC position report, has been sailing in a low pressure system for several days now that has brought big seas and strong winds.
“The seas are so confused that the autopilot just can’t steer,” the 42-year-old American said. “The wind picked up to 40 knots and it was just like ‘bam’ and the boat was on its side. I am so tired of this low pressure, it’s unbelievable.”
Brad’s westerly course appears to be paying off for the time being, with his yacht Le Pingouin clocking the fastest average speed of the fleet in the last 24 hours at 12.9 knots.
Polish ocean racer Gutek has been chasing Brad hard but has stayed slightly more east, away from the strongest winds. As the fleet travel further south towards the Equator, the 36-year-old former dinghy champion has been coming to terms with the realities of life at sea alone. He said: “For the first time in the race I am lying down and bored, sitting like a rat below deck. Upstairs is hot and wet. I don’t have even a book.”
Canadian Derek Hatfield, last polled in third position, is looking forward to crossing the Equator, the next big milestone for the fleet as they head to Cape Town. “I would like to be a bit farther west as I don’t want to go through the Cape Verde Islands,” he said. “We are now setting up for the crossing of the Equator which should happen in under six days. Roll on Equator.”
Belgian singlehander Christophe Bullens left La Rochelle yesterday morning on his new Eco 60 yacht Five Oceans of Smiles too. Christophe’s campaign was thrown into jeopardy when his original yacht Five Oceans of Smiles was cruelly dismasted 15 miles off the coast of France en route to La Rochelle. But he managed to find another boat to race in at the last minute and started the 30,000-mile solo race on time before returning to La Rochelle to make final preparations.
Since leaving he has been making good progress through the Bay of Biscay towards the open waters of the Atlantic. Christophe is expecting to pass Cape Finisterre on the north east corner of Spain this evening. At 12pm UTC Christophe was almost 1,490 nautical miles behind Brad and Le Pingouin.
“I am a little tired, however I am happy to be at sea,” he said. “I still have a few things to learn about the boat. It is different from the other boat and I need to get used to her, but it’s a good start.”
The fleet have now been at sea eight days and have more than 4,700 nautical miles left to sail to Cape Town.
Statistics from 12pm UTC position report:
Skipper; distance to finish (nm); distance to leader (nm); distance covered in last 24 hours (nm); average speed in last 24 hours (kts)
Brad Van Liew: 4,750.9; 0; 310.2; 12.9
Gutek: 4,794.4; 43.5; 293.3; 12.2
Derek Hatfield: 4,916.7; 165.7; 276.4; 11.5
Chris Stanmore-Major: 5,160.8; 409.9; 267.3; 11.1
Christophe Bullens: 6,239.9; 1,488.9; 256.3; 10.7
The VELUX 5 OCEANS, run by Clipper Ventures PLC, is the longest running solo round the world race, and has 28 years of rich heritage as the BOC Challenge and then the Around Alone. This edition features five ocean sprints over nine months. After leaving from La Rochelle on October 17th the fleet now head to Cape Town, the race will then take in Wellington in New Zealand, Salvador in Brazil and Charleston in the US before returning back across the Atlantic to France.