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CANADIAN DEREK HATFIELD LEADS VELUX 5 OCEANS FLEET IN SECOND SPRINT

December 17th, 2010

Fleet still bunched after one day’s racing

CANADIAN ocean racer Derek Hatfield has reclaimed the lead less than 24 hours into the second sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS. Keen to make up for a slow start at the beginning of sprint one in La Rochelle, the veteran solo sailor was the first of the international fleet to cross the start line of the second leg in Cape Town on Active House.

It was a tough start to the Southern Ocean sprint with light airs dogging the skippers as they tried to steal any advantage they could over their rivals as the five Eco 60 yachts headed south from the start. Polish ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski on Operon Racing looked to have the advantage as the fleet passed Robben Island but it was American ocean sprint one winner Brad Van Liew on Le Pingouin who emerged in front at the first six-hourly position report.

However it was all change again by midnight UTC: despite Brad being further south than Derek and Gutek, Active House was more to the east and leading Operon Racing by just under one nautical mile with Le Pingouin in third 2.4 nautical miles behind. British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major on Spartan and Belgian ocean racer Christophe Bullens on Five Oceans of Smiles too were both 15 nautical miles behind the leading yacht, CSM opting for a more southerly route while Christophe took a more easterly heading.

All five skippers will face patchy light winds as they punch through a high pressure system which currently blocks their paths to the stronger westerly winds that they are searching for. The Cape Town to Wellington sprint, the second of five that make up the VELUX 5 OCEANS, is around 7,500 nautical miles with the first yachts expected to arrive in New Zealand in early January.

VELUX 5 OCEANS SPRINT TWO SETS SAIL FROM CAPE TOWN

December 16th, 2010

Ocean racers to take on Southern Ocean in sprint to Wellington

THE second sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS solo round the world yacht race got underway from Cape Town today bound for Wellington in New Zealand. With the iconic Table Mountain providing a stunning backdrop, the fleet of five international ocean racers crossed the start line beginning a gruelling 7,000 nautical mile sprint across the Southern Ocean through some of the worst weather conditions known to man.

The original start of ocean sprint two had been planned for Sunday but it was postponed due to gale-force winds and huge seas off the coast of South Africa. The VELUX 5 OCEANS race committee constantly monitored the weather forecasts until they felt there was a suitable window in the weather to allow for a safe race start.

The fleet set sail from Cape Town in their 60ft Eco 60 yachts in around 15 knots of breeze from the South East. Canada’s Derek Hatfield on Active House was the first to cross the line, with a strong start that will make-up for his poor start in La Rochelle. He led the five impressive ocean racing yachts out of Table Bay and into open water where the wind dropped considerably in the shadow of the mountain. Tactics will now come into play with all five skippers trying to find some breeze to take them on.

Sprint one winner, Brad Van Liew on Le Pingouin followed Derek over the line, and a smiling Christophe Bullens on Five Oceans of Smiles Too was third, with this his first start with the entire fleet obviously meaning a lot to him.  Gutek (Zbigniew Gutkowski) and Operon Racing was next and finally Chris Stanmore-Major aboard Spartan who struggled to get his main sail up and lost momentum on his way to the start line.

Prior to leaving the dock, ocean sprint one winner Brad Van Liew could not be drawn on his tactics for the next leg. The 42-year old American has twice competed in the VELUX 5 OCEANS prior to this event, winning class two in the 2002/3 edition of the race.

“I’m just going to go out there, sail my boat and try to stay safe,” said Brad, skipper of Le Pingouin. “Safety is the key to this leg. I’m very competitive by nature so I will just see what happens once I’m there. I’m not going to go out all aggressive with a bone in my teeth. I think I’ll just get stuck into it and let the cycle of the leg do its own thing.”

Canadian ocean racer Derek Hatfield, skipper of Active House, was facing up to the prospect of Christmas alone at sea. “It will be a bit emotional but I will be able to call in,” the 58-year-old father of four said. “It’s a special day at home but for me it’s just another day racing. All the days meld together so when you’re alone at sea there is no real special day. It’s just another race day.”

Howling winds, freezing temperatures and mountainous seas await the skippers as they head south from Cape Town into the notorious Roaring Forties and Screaming Fifties, named so because of the sheer force of the winds that are found in those latitudes. The Southern Ocean is the only ocean in the world that is not constricted by land allowing waves and wind to mount up as they circumnavigate the globe unimpeded.

Run by Clipper Ventures PLC, the VELUX 5 OCEANS started from La Rochelle in France in October and features five ocean sprints. After heading from La Rochelle to Cape Town, the race is now headed for Wellington in New Zealand. Following that the race takes in Salvador in Brazil and Charleston in the US before returning back across the Atlantic to France. The 2010/11 edition of the race is the eighth its 28-year history. 

Skippers’ quotes:
 

Brad Van Liew:

“The second leg is a tough one to prepare for mentally because it is so different to leg one. This time round we have to face extreme winds and seas and cold. I’m definitely more apprehensive than I was at the start in France. This leg is about getting down south and once you’re there there’s only one way to go. It’s a bit like jumping off a high dive – you’ve just got to commit to it. It is a daunting leg to get into. I’m just going to go out there, sail my boat and try to stay safe. Safety is the key to this leg. I’m very competitive by nature so I will just see what happens once I’m there. I’m not going to go out all aggressive with a bone in my teeth. I think I’ll just get stuck into it and let the cycle of the leg do its own thing.”

Derek Hatfield:

“You never want to be too over-confident with these things because it can be the kiss of bad luck but the boat is ready and I am ready to leave. The weather is making everyone a bit nervous and going into the south you can’t underestimate the weather. I have been there twice and it’s one of those places that if I never went to again I wouldn’t feel too bad! First of all you don’t want to go there and as soon as you get there you want to get away from it. I feel a bit of nervousness but I just have to put it to one side and get on with the job and get through the start. The start is always a nervous time because you have boats romping around on the start line often in breezy conditions and also each skipper wants to be the first across the line. It’s important to get across the line cleanly and then settle things down, get into a routine, get round the Cape and then south of 40 degrees into the westerlies and then high-tail it to Wellington and be there right after the New Year.
“Leg one was a bit of a trauma for me because I struggled through the first couple of weeks before I found my stride. I found myself in third place and a little bit behind. I was able to maintain third place but I’m hoping for better positioning in the next leg. I’m not saying I’m going to be first or second necessarily but I am hoping to be nearer the front and pushing harder and be a lot more competitive.
“I don’t feel too bad about spending Christmas away from my family. I have been away for Christmas before – all these major ocean races seem to involve being away for Christmas. It will be a bit emotional but I will be able to call in. I know the kids will be with Patianne and their grandparents and having a good time. It’s a special day at home but for me it’s just another day racing. All the days meld together so when you’re alone at sea there is no real special day. It’s just another race day.”

Christophe Bullens:

“I’m a little bit nervous about ocean sprint two because of the weather conditions and also the boat is not yet 100 per cent ready so I am a little bit stressed. The good thing is I know the boat better now than I did when I left La Rochelle. In that respect the second leg should be easier for me.”

Chris Stanmore-Major:

“The big challenge of ocean sprint two is going to be the conditions, the terrain we will be going through. The Southern Ocean is mountainous; it’s part of the world where the seas can orbit without stopping. You get huge seas building up, massive winds, and waves that are taller than the top of the mast. It’s going to be very hard on the boat and very hard on me. We’re going to get the best the Southern Ocean has got to give. I face it with some trepidation but I have a lot of confidence in my boat. I think she will be good for it. I am going to take it very gently. You can’t compete for the overall results if you don’t make it to the finish line. As we came out of Spain in leg one I was second and I had Brad in my sights. If I can keep my errors down and my boat in one piece then there’s a chance I can get to the front.”
 

Zbigniew Gutkowski:

“For the next leg it’s totally different to the first leg. In comparison, the first leg was easy. The Southern Ocean is storm conditions nearly all the time. You’ve got to keep the boat in one piece. Safety comes first, and then the speed of the boat. For sure I will be looking out for Brad and the other guys and trying to make the best tactical decisions but staying safe is the top priority. It’s really easy to break something out there and if you do, you’re on your own with no help.”

VELUX 5 OCEANS SKIPPERS TO TAKE ON MIGHTY SOUTHERN OCEAN IN SECOND SPRINT

December 9th, 2010

7,000 nautical mile sprint from Cape Town to Wellington starts on Sunday

If the first ocean sprint from La Rochelle to Cape Town wasn’t hard enough, the VELUX 5 OCEANS is about to get a lot tougher. Howling winds, freezing temperatures, mountainous seas and icebergs await the five ocean racers as they leave the comfort of Cape Town and head into the bleak expanses of the Indian Ocean bound for Wellington in New Zealand.  It is here they will encounter some of the worst weather conditions known to man – and they will face them alone. More than 7,000 nautical miles, and countless obstacles, lie between the skippers and their next port of call.

Sailing through this section of the world has been the downfall of many a skipper in the 28 years of the VELUX 5 OCEANS. In the 1994 BOC Challenge French solo sailing legend Isabelle Autissier’s yacht Ecureuil Potiou Charentes II was dismasted and later severely damaged south of Australia in horrendous conditions. Autissier was rescued but her yacht was never recovered. Twelve years later British solo sailing veteran Mike Golding carried out a heroic rescue of fellow competitor Alex Thomson deep in the Southern Ocean following keel failure on Thomson’s Hugo Boss. Golding’s Ecover was then cruelly dismasted 1,000 nautical miles from Cape Town just six hours after rescuing Thomson.

One man who knows firsthand the dangers and challenges that lie ahead for the ocean racers is VELUX 5 OCEANS race director David Adams, a veteran of two editions of the race and winner of class two in 1994 event, then known as the BOC Challenge. “Ocean sprint two is probably the most physically demanding,” David explained. “It’s a very tough leg. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s wet, the sea is a nasty green colour and it is ferocious. For the whole sprint these sailors will be down in the Roaring Forties and the Screaming Fifties.

“It’s a very daunting challenge, but it is also the reason you do this race – good speeds, big surfing waves and the weather is behind you pushing you where you want to go. There are the high points and the low points but then there’s this whole other factor to content with: the ice. There are icebergs out there but nobody really knows where they are. You’ve got to be watching all the time, and that’s a real problem.”

After setting sail from Cape Town on December 12, the fleet of Eco 60s will head further south into the Southern Ocean, characterised by giant depressions capable of delivering hurricane force winds and waves the size of buildings. The constant crashing of the boat means little if any sleep for the skippers, and the violent seas ensure nothing onboard, however well stowed, is left dry.

To minimise the risk of sailing through the most dangerous iceberg-littered section of the Southern Ocean, the fleet must stay north of the Kerguelen Islands, a desolate archipelago midway between South Africa and Australia. But with the reduced danger of ice come more problems.

“It’s not so much the wind that is the problem, it’s the size of the seas,” David said. “If you happen to get to the Kerguelen Islands at the wrong time, when there’s a low pressure system, it’s really nasty. You’ve got this ocean that is up to four miles deep and then you get to the Kerguelen Islands and it goes to 100 metres. The waves just stand up like four or five storey buildings just coming right for you. You just listen to the roar of the waves as they are coming and you just have to work with them.”

After rounding the Kerguelen Islands the racers will then dip south again to pick up the strongest winds to power them to Wellington. “Sometimes it will be blowing so hard that even with no sails up whatsoever the boats will be doing 10, 12, maybe 15 knots,” David added. “Getting through ocean sprint two is a real skill – it’s all about risk management. The really skilful guys will know when to push hard and when to ease off and just get through the weather systems.”

Another safety gate below Cape Leeuwin, the most south-westerly point of Australia and the second of the Great Capes, will keep the fleet out of yet more danger from icebergs. A timed run between longitudes 50 East and 75 East will test the skippers’ speed and provide an opportunity to win bonus points.

Just when the skippers are within touching distance of Wellington and the finish line they will be faced with Cook Strait, the bank of water between the North and South Islands of New Zealand. A natural wind funnel, Cook Straight is prone to localised storms making it a formidable gauntlet for yachts to pass through.

Ocean sprint two starts from Cape Town at 2pm local time (12pm UTC) on Sunday, December 12.

FIVE OCEANS OF SMILES TOO FLOODS IN LATEST RUN OF BAD LUCK FOR CHRISTOPHE BULLENS

November 27th, 2010

Belgian skipper’s sail fitting breaks and food destroyed in night of drama

UP to two tonnes of water flooded into Belgian ocean racer Christophe Bullens’ yacht Five Oceans of Smiles too last night after a part on his generator broke. Christophe awoke in the early hours to find water up to his knees in the engine compartment of the Eco 60 yacht.

To make matters worse several rubbish bags had split open, spilling their contents into the compartment. It took the 49-year-old VELUX 5 OCEANS skipper hours to bail the water out of the engine compartment and clean the rubbish up.

It was beginning of a long night for Christophe that also saw a fitting holding his foresail break and his food store flooded with water. The problems began when Christophe was awoken by the smell of fuel in the cabin.

“I woke up with a headache and had a real urge to get some fresh air quickly,” he said. “I saw a blue fog in the boat and recognised the smell of fuel. I went into the engine compartment and it was a nightmare. There was water up to the knees, everything was flooded. My rubbish bags were floating on the water and had been ripped – rubbish was everywhere. The water lock on the generator was broken so all the water from the recooling of the engine was pouring inside for nearly an hour. I estimate the volume of water to be between one and two tonnes.”

After spending several hours bailing the water out, Christophe took the helm of Five Oceans of Smiles too to allow his autopilot to rest. Shortly afterwards he heard a loud bang and on closer inspection found a fitting holding his Solent foresail in place had broken. Luckily the sail was not damaged and Christophe was able to reattach it after fixing the fitting.

Just to add insult to injury, Christophe later discovered the compartment storing his food supplies had flooded with water. “I went to make some dinner, opened the food compartment, and to my horror it was flooded,” Christophe said. “Luckily the freeze dried food is packaged separately and is still dry. Everything else is soaked. No more little biscuits or long life bread. Thankfully I have less than two weeks left at sea.”

Christophe’s run of bad luck started before the race began when his original yacht Five Oceans of Smiles was dismasted en route to La Rochelle. After restarting the first leg a week after the rest of the fleet, Christophe was forced to pull into the Canary Islands to make repairs and then to the Cape Verde Islands when he was struck down with an infection. He then broke his Solent stay off the coast of Brazil.

At the last position report Christophe had 2,264 nautical miles left to sail to the finish line in Cape Town, South Africa.

Ocean sprint 1:

Brad Van Liew finished November 14, 28 days, 1 hour, 51 minutes

Gutek finished November 17, 31 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes

Derek Hatfield finished November 20, 33 days, 22 hours and 37 minutes

Chris Stanmore-Major finished 36 days, 0 hours and 44 minutes

GUTEK TAKES SECOND PLACE IN VELUX 5 OCEANS FIRST LEG

November 17th, 2010

Polish skipper surprises in first solo ocean race 

AFTER exactly one month at sea, Polish ocean racer Zbigniew Gutkowski sailed into Cape Town this evening to claim second place in the first ocean sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS. The 36-year-old, known as Gutek, crossed the finish line off the South African coast at 10.03pm local time, 31 days, six hours and three minutes after leaving La Rochelle in France.

After a frustrating few days of light winds on the approach to Cape Town, Gutek completed the leg in fresh conditions, a south easterly breeze of between 20 and 25 knots powering him across the finish with the lights of Cape Town illuminated in the background.

Gutek, a former national champion dinghy racer, impressed right from the start of the solo round the world race, leading the VELUX 5 OCEANS fleet across the start line of this first stage and out into the Bay of Biscay. Despite problems with his Eco 60 yacht Operon Racing early on, Gutek kept pace with American rival Brad Van Liew, constantly challenging for first place right until the end of the 7,400-mile leg.

Setting foot on land for the first time since ocean sprint one start day on October 17, Gutek said: “I am so glad to be here. It was a really exciting race. All the time I was so close to Brad – beating him was my motivation. I found out one very important thing on this trip – I can sail solo. I had never done it before, and so before the start I didn’t know if I could do it or not. But now I am confident I can sail solo anywhere.”

Gutek’s finish comes just three days behind Brad, who won the ocean sprint on Sunday evening. The feat is all the more impressive considering Gutek is a newcomer to solo sailing and, at 19 years old, Operon Racing is the oldest boat in the VELUX 5 OCEANS fleet and seven years older than Brad’s Le Pingouin. But she is by no means a slow boat – she was built by French sailing legend Alain Gautier who sailed her to victory in the 1992/3 Vendée Globe.

In the tradition of the VELUX 5 OCEANS, the 42-year-old American was on the dock to welcome in his rival and friend. Gutek was also reunited with his wife Eliza and his shore crew.

Ocean sprint one was something of a baptism of fire for Gutek. Just days into the race Gutek had to climb the mast to repair a broken halyard. Then, just over a week in, Gutek suffered deep cuts to his forehead after being hit by his wind generator. After shaving his hair off he then had to stitch up the wounds.

While chasing Brad through the South Atlantic another halyard broke and Gutek was forced to climb the mast once more, this time in strong winds and huge seas. Just moments after setting his gennaker following the repair the halyard snapped again and the sail was lost over the side of the boat. This all but ended Gutek’s chances of catching Brad.

“I do feel a little bit upset because I lost out many times because of things breaking, mainly the sails,” Gutek added. “When I lost the gennaker just before Cape Town I tried to find conditions that would suit sailing with no gennaker but I couldn’t find them. I lost three, four, maybe five days.”

Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield and British ocean racer Chris Stanmore-Major are due to arrive in Cape Town over the weekend. For the latest ETAs go to the VELUX 5 OCEANS Twitter page www.twitter.com/velux5oceans or the Facebook fan site www.facebook.com/velux5oceans.

Statistics from 12pm UTC position report:

Skipper; distance to finish (nm); distance covered in last 24 hours (nm); average speed in last 24 hours (kts)

Brad Van Liew: finished Nov 14, 28 days, 1 hour, 51 mins
Gutek: finished Nov 17, 31 days, 6 hours, 3 mins

Derek Hatfield: 693; 176; 6.3

Chris Stanmore-Major: 943.9; 118.6; 4.9
Christophe Bullens: 3,578.2; 124.2; 5.2

LIGHT AIRS FRUSTRATE VELUX 5 OCEANS FLEET

November 15th, 2010

 Weather causes problems for ocean racers during final part of first leg

WHILE American Brad Van Liew has been revelling in his victory in the first ocean sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS, the rest of the fleet have been making frustratingly slow progress towards Cape Town. Light airs have dogged Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski, Derek Hatfield and Chris Stanmore-Major as they battle their way to the finish line of the 7,400 nautical mile leg which started in La Rochelle on October 17.

Frustration has swept through the fleet, now tantalisingly close to Cape Town. At the last position report at midday UTC second placed Gutek and his Eco 60 yacht Operon Racing were just 560 nautical miles from the line but in the previous 24 hours covered just 121 nautical miles.

“Right now I have no wind,” the 36-year-old Pole said. “I am sailing very, very slowly.

During the last three days I made less distance than I would normally in 24 hours. The longer I sail the slower I go. I keep looking back for the boys, but I don’t think they will catch me because they won’t have any good wind either.”

He is right – Canadian Derek Hatfield was today experiencing equally frustrating conditions on Active House, just over 1,000 nautical miles from the finish. The cause of the problems for the ocean racers is the St Helena High, a complicated series of high pressure systems that cover a huge area of the South Atlantic.

“This high pressure system that we sailed so far to get around landed on me with both feet,” Derek said this morning. “It’s a moving target all the time and unfortunately I now have to deal with it over the next few days. It’s going to be a slow one for sure. This morning I’ve got really glassy seas, seven knots of breeze and I’m doing about 6.3 knots. The boat is heeled right over with the canting keel and it’s very quiet. The sound of the water running past the hull could send you to sleep.”

The latest ETA for Gutek’s arrival into Cape Town is Wednesday but unless the wind picks up it could be later. It is likely Derek and Chris arrive during the weekend and with just 230 nautical miles separating them the race for third place is on! Christophe Bullens is currently stuck in the Doldrums, the area of low pressure close to the Equator known for patchy and unpredictable weather. Brad Van Liew yesterday became the first skipper to arrive in Cape Town, winning ocean sprint one in 28 days.

Statistics from 12pm UTC position report:

Skipper; distance to finish (nm); distance covered in last 24 hours (nm); average speed in last 24 hours (kts)

Brad Van Liew: finished Nov 14, 28 days, 1 hour, 51 mins
Gutek: 562.3; 523.6; 121.8; 5.1
Derek Hatfield: 1,067.1; 207.2; 8.6

Chris Stanmore-Major: 1,298.8; 170.6; 7.1
Christophe Bullens: 3,761.2; 122.1; 5.1

28 DAYS LATER… BRAD VAN LIEW TAKES TOP SPOT IN FIRST LEG OF VELUX 5 OCEANS

November 14th, 2010

 American skipper crosses Cape Town finish line victorious

AMERICAN ocean racer Brad Van Liew today sailed into Cape Town to claim victory in the first ocean sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS. Under clear blue skies and with a fresh south easterly breeze, the 42-year-old from Charleston, South Carolina, blasted across the finish line in Table Bay at 5.51pm local time (3.51pm UTC) doing 10-12 knots in a 15-knot wind.
Brad, a past winner of the VELUX 5 OCEANS in 2002 and a veteran of two editions of the race, took 28 days, 1 hour and 51 minutes to race from La Rochelle in France to Cape Town. A small fleet of support boats sailed out to meet Brad and his 60ft Eco yacht Le Pingouin in Table Bay and welcome him in to Cape Town as the winner of the first of five ocean sprints that make up the 30,000-mile solo round the world race, known as The Ultimate Solo Challenge. During ocean sprint one Brad sailed 8,003 nautical miles at an average speed of 11.9 knots.
 
It was a frustrating day for Brad, who was battered by 45-knot winds just early this morning before becoming becalmed just ten nautical miles from the finish line. Finally the wind filled in and Brad crossed the finish line before berthing at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront to the cheers of the watching crowds.
There were emotional scenes on the dock as Brad was reunited on the dockside with his wife Meaghan and two children Tate, 7, and Wyatt, 6. Stepping off Le Pingouin for the first time since leaving La Rochelle on October 17, Brad said: “It feels great to be in Cape Town. Four weeks door to door is pretty good, as good as I could have hoped for. I had a real incentive – Gutek pushed me pretty hard. The weather forced my hand a few times too. I wasn’t sure when I left France exactly what my motivations were for doing this race but now I know – I’m having fun.”
 
Despite leading the VELUX 5 OCEANS fleet for the majority of the sprint from La Rochelle to Cape Town, it was by no means an easy victory for Brad. He has been chased hard by rival ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski since day one, the 36-year-old Pole constantly challenging for the lead on Operon Racing.
Brad left La Rochelle feeling ill with flu and it was more than a week at sea before he started to feel better. Le Pingouin was then knocked flat just days into the leg while travelling at more than 20 knots when the yacht crash-gybed in strong winds.
However his luck came in crossing the Doldrums, the notorious area of low pressure either side of the Equator which can snare sailors for days, and he crossed relatively quickly. After the Doldrums Brad skirted the coast of Brazil, constantly hounded by Gutek, before taking on the St Helena High, a tricky weather system which sits in the South Atlantic. After making the left turn to Cape Town Brad was becalmed in light winds allowing Gutek to reduce Brad’s lead to just 0.2 nautical miles.
But the experienced solo sailor clung on to his lead and finished strongly, putting more than 600 nautical miles on Gutek in the past few days. Gutek is expected to arrive in Cape Town on Wednesday.
 
For his win Brad is awarded the maximum score of 12 points. He also takes home the first place prize of €24,000.

Statistics from 6pm UTC position report:

Skipper; distance to finish (nm); distance covered in last 24 hours (nm); average speed in last 24 hours (kts)
 
Brad Van Liew: Finished Sprint 1 – 28 days 1 hour 41 mins
Gutek: 627.5; 255.8; 10.7
Derek Hatfield: 1203.4; 276.4; 11.5

Chris Stanmore-Major: 1408.7; 260.5; 10.9
Christophe Bullens: 3840.9; 217.1; 9

BRAD VAN LIEW LEADING VELUX 5 OCEANS FLEET AS CAPE TOWN APPROACHES

November 12th, 2010

American expected to cross finish line on Sunday 

AMERICAN solo sailor Brad Van Liew is on the verge of victory in the first leg of the VELUX 5 OCEANS. The experienced 42-year-old skipper has less than 600 nautical miles to go to reach the finish line of the first of five ocean sprints that make up the 30,000-mile Ultimate Solo Challenge.

No result is certain and the race is not yet over – but without any major upsets Brad will lead the fleet into Cape Town in the next few days as winner of the first leg after setting sail from La Rochelle in France on October 17.

Ocean sprint one has seen a fascinating and tense battle between Brad on Le Pingouin and Polish ocean racer Zbigniew Gutkowski on Operon Racing. Brad is a veteran of two past editions of the VELUX 5 OCEANS, winning class two in the 2002 race, while 36-year-old Gutek, a newcomer to the solo sailing world, hails from an Olympic dinghy racing background.

From day one Gutek has pushed Brad to the limit, chasing him hard through the North Atlantic, across the Equator and into the South Atlantic, never more than a few hundred miles behind and on several occasions even in front. Gutek’s aggressive, relentless attack was a welcome surprise to Brad, whose yacht Le Pingouin is seven years younger than Gutek’s Operon Racing.

“I gotta say I didn’t expect to have to come out of the gate swinging so hard,” Brad said. “I thought round one was going to be a little bit of getting to know everyone. Then Gutek just stepped into the ring and smacked me one right on the nose straight out of the gate. Obviously then I retaliated and we’ve been beating each other up pretty hard since. I’ve just been so tired and pushing so much harder than I’ve ever pushed.”

The pair have been locked in a bitter duel for more 26 days now. Around 500 nautical miles separate them as they make their final approaches into Cape Town, Brad taking a more northerly route over the top of a high pressure system and Gutek opting for the southerly route, dipping into the Roaring Forties.

“If I can keep the boat moving fast enough to stay in front of the light air I’ll have put him in a place where there’s no chance of catching me,” Brad added. “Now there is nothing left for me or Gutek to do, he’s played every card in his hand, I’ve played every card in mine, and we’re just waiting to see who ends up winning.”

It’s been an amazing display of sailing from Gutek, who joined the race somewhat of a dark horse. “From the very beginning I was saying that for me just to finish each of these legs would be a great deal,” Gutek said. “Also being placed other than the last one would be a surprise. But now I am second. It’s very good, but I feel unsatisfied because I know I could be further ahead than I am now – I wouldn’t say first, but more in front that now, definitely closer to Cape Town.”

In the past 24 hours Brad has sailed 312 nautical miles, 90 more than Gutek, at an average speed of 13 knots. Brad estimated today that he will arrive in Cape Town around midday on Sunday, with Gutek expected in around 24 hours later. But no yacht race is really over until the first boat crosses the line! On arrival, the Eco 60 yachts will berth in the North Harbour at the V&A Waterfront where members of the public can come to see them and meet their skippers.

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: 602.7; 0; 312.7; 13
Gutek: 1,126.3; 523.6; 221.6; 9.2
Derek Hatfield: 1,837.9; 1,235.2; 262.7; 10.9

Chris Stanmore-Major: 1,965.9; 1,363.2; 255.8; 10.7
Christophe Bullens: 4,328.6; 3,725.9; 56; 2.3

GUTEK’S CHALLENGE FOR FIRST ALL BUT ENDED BY SAIL DISASTER

November 9th, 2010

 Polish skipper powerless as sprint win possibility slips away 

POLISH ocean racer Zbigniew Gutkowski has suffered a painstaking blow to his fight for first place in the first leg of the VELUX 5 OCEANS after losing a vital sail. The 36-year-old, known by his nickname Gutek, had been locked in a tense battle with American Brad Van Liew since the race started from La Rochelle, France, three weeks ago.

Gutek had even clawed back hundreds of miles in Operon Racing, a much older boat than Brad’s Le Pingouin, momentarily taking the lead. But disaster struck for Gutek when one of his halyards which hold up a yacht’s sails broke and his gennaker, a big sail that flies from the front of the boat powering it along, fell into the ocean. The sail was instantly destroyed, leaving Gutek with only a smaller, less effective foresail to replace it with.

The loss of the gennaker means that as long as there are no major incidents for Brad in the final 1,500 nautical miles to Cape Town, Gutek’s chances of catching him appear all but over. After being within grasp of the American for so long, Gutek has only been able to watch as the distance between the two boats grows. The latest position report put Operon Racing 280 nautical miles behind Le Pingouin.

“I want to cry now,” Gutek said as the consequences started to sink in. “All night it was a really fast sprint to catch up with the low pressure system. Then my halyard broke. This time my gennaker fell down into the water. Really, I didn’t have the slightest chance to save my last sail – it just went into pieces once it got into the water. Now, as for my foresails, I only have a jib left, so the truth is I have nothing to chase Brad with. I’m angry, very angry.”
Unaware of the extent of the problems onboard Operon Racing, Brad has continued to push hard towards Cape Town and the ocean sprint one finish line. He has gone for more than 30 hours without sleep, unwilling to drop his guard for even the shortest amount of time.

“I’ve got a westerly wind and I’ll have to carefully calculate my gybes,” Brad said. “I think going north then down south to Cape Town. But I’ll have to keep an eye on the anticyclone. If I get stuck, Gutek will overtake me from below.”

The latest ETA for Brad is early on Sunday, November 14, with Gutek predicted to arrive in Cape Town a day later on Monday, November 15.

Statistics from 12pm UTC position report:

Skipper – Boat: distance of arrival (NM) / distance from the leader / 24 hour distance / average speed 24 (knots)

1. Brad Van Liew – The Penguin: 1459 miles / 0 / 322.7 miles / 13.4 knots

2. Zbigniew Gutkowski – Operon Racing 1 739.5 miles / 280.5 miles / 194 miles / 8.1 knots

3. Derek Hatfield – Active House 2 525.9 miles / 1066.9 miles / 24.3 miles / 1 nodes

4. Chris Stanmore-Major – Spartan 2 658.4 miles / 1 199.4 miles / 159.5 miles / 6.6 knots

5. Christophe Bullens – Five Oceans of Smiles: 4492 miles / 3033.1 miles / 124 miles / 5.2 knots

GUTEK STEALS LEAD IN VELUX 5 OCEANS – BUT NOT FOR LONG

November 8th, 2010

American Brad Van Liew out in front again after exciting weekend

IT was a tense weekend of nail-biting action in the VELUX 5 OCEANS as the leading boats battled it out for first place. After hunting down race leader Brad Van Liew and closing the gap between them to just 22 nautical miles going into the weekend, Polish skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski led the fleet for the first time since leaving La Rochelle three weeks ago.

With Brad to the south, Gutek was able to take a more direct route towards Cape Town, effectively cutting the corner off the route sailed by Le Pingouin. But the 36-year-old’s time at the front of the fleet was to be a brief one. After several days of frustrating light winds navigating through the St Helena High in the South Atlantic, Brad picked up the winds he had been searching for and reclaimed the top spot. In the past 24 hours the American has stretched his lead to 152 nautical miles, averaging 14.5 knots.

It was not easy for Brad to hang on to his lead – and it’s not over yet. There are still more than 1,700 nautical miles to go before the leading pair reach Cape Town and the finish line for the first ocean sprint. Early predictions forecast the pair could arrive in Cape Town this coming weekend.

“It has been constant sail changes and working non-stop to keep my slim lead on Gutek,” Brad said. “He has been hunting me down, and doing it at Mach 2 speed with precision. I was really frustrated that I had to work my way around the high pressure system and Gutek was able to cut the corner, devouring my hard fought lead. It will now be a full-on drag race with an unknown outcome.

“The reality is we have both chosen a lane. Gutek has been forced to try and come down closer to my latitude. I have a slight advantage on him… let’s say very slight. My advantage is of course being in front. I have a strategy and I’m sticking to my plan. My disadvantage is that I am being hunted. Gutek can come up with tactics to crush my plan.”

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: 1,781.1; 0; 347.1; 14.5
Gutek: 1,933.4; 152.3; 305.9; 12.7
Derek Hatfield: 2,550.1; 769; 158.1; 6.6

Chris Stanmore-Major: 2,817.8; 1,036.7; 208.4; 8.7
Christophe Bullens: 4,616.1; 2,834.9; 150.1; 6.3

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