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VELUX 5 OCEANS FLEET TAKE ON BIGGEST CHALLENGE YET: THE DOLDRUMS

October 27th, 2010

 Ocean racers lining up for tricky Equator crossing

THE competition – and the weather – is really starting to hot up as the VELUX 5 OCEANS fleet press south towards the Equator. After ten days of sailing which have seen the fleet encounter a host of weather conditions from frustrating, light breeze to strong winds and high seas, the five ocean racers have their biggest challenge of the leg so far ahead of them: the Doldrums.

The Doldrums is one of the most challenging regions to sail through in the world: a dynamic, moving area of high pressure found a few hundred miles either side of the equator where the northern and southern hemispheres meet, characterised by incredibly light winds and notorious for its sudden and unforeseen squalls and storms. Coupled with hot, humid temperatures, and days of potentially slow progress, the Doldrums will be a huge test for the skippers.

At the head of the fleet, American solo sailor Brad Van Liew continues to stretch his lead over the chasing pack. The latest position report at 12pm UTC put the 42-year-old from Charleston, South Carolina, 86 nautical miles ahead of Polish ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski as the pair blast south past the Cape Verde Islands.

Canadian Derek Hatfield changed course overnight to avoid the islands, and now trails Brad by 314 miles. A passage too close to them could cause problems for the sailors due to the light, unpredictable winds that can be found around the islands. The 57-year-old sailed west for eight hours to clear the islands and also put his Eco 60 yacht Active House on course to cross the Doldrums.

“I’ve been looking at the Doldrums and I’m going to push a little harder now,” Derek said today. “I had to put in a jog to the west last night which was pretty painful, but right from Cape Finisterre I haven’t been far enough west. I have been paying the price for that ever since. I spent eight hours last night going west to put me in a better position to go round the Cape Verde Islands and gives me a proper angle on the Doldrums. I’m trucking along at 15 knots and I’m much happier with life.”

“I need to be through the Doldrums by Sunday or the door is going to close and the Doldrums will move further south,” he added. “I think Brad and Gutek will have a nice run through and hopefully I can get through too.”

While Brad suffered two knockdowns on Le Pingouin and Gutek was caught out with too much sail up as they both headed through a low pressure system, Derek, who chose a similar course, has so far escaped unscathed.

“I haven’t had any hairy moments yet,” Derek said. “Last night I gybed twice and both went well, nothing broke. There was 22 knots of wind and it was dark so I’m pretty pleased. Everything’s pretty calm onboard. I check the boat often to make sure I don’t get into trouble although you can get into trouble pretty quickly out here.”

Gutek has been recovering from a nasty injury to his head caused by the wind generator on Operon Racing. The blades on the wind generator sliced his forehead in several places yesterday forcing the 36-year-old to get out the needle and thread and stitch his wounds back together. To add more misery, Gutek got an electric shock from his hydrogenerator while trying to fix it yesterday. “Is it not enough that I’m already wounded?” he wrote this morning. “An electric shock now? Wonderful.”

British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major, who chose a course closer to the coast of northern Africa, was last positioned off the coast of Mauritiana. Despite his fourth place, CSM clocked the highest average speed between the morning and midday reports on Spartan averaging 12 knots.

Christophe Bullens, more than 1,800 nautical miles behind Brad after returning to La Rochelle after the race start last Sunday, has also chosen a more inshore route hugging the Portuguese coastline. His yacht Five Oceans of Smiles too continues to be plagued by electrical problems and his average speed over the last 24 hours was polled at just 3.1 knots. The 49-year-old Belgian was joined on his voyage yesterday by a pod of dolphins – but even they will have provided little comfort in these difficult times.

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: 4,158; 0; 288; 12

Gutek: 4,244; 86; 268.9; 11.2

Derek Hatfield: 4,472.2; 314.4; 186.2; 7.8

Chris Stanmore-Major: 4,736.8; 578.7; 242.6; 10.1

Christophe Bullens: 6,026; 1,868.8; 75.3; 3.1

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.

FIRST BLOOD SPILT IN VELUX 5 OCEANS

October 26th, 2010

Polish ocean racer suffers deep cuts to forehead as fleet heads south 

IT has been another day of drama for the VELUX 5 OCEANS skippers as they head further south towards the Equator. Following on from a manic day on the water yesterday which saw Brad Van Liew’s Le Pingouin knocked flat for the second time in days and Chris Stanmore-Major nearly lose his headsail twice, Polish ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski became the first skipper to sustain a notable injury after slicing his head open on the blade of his wind generator.

Gutek suffered several cuts to his head as he tried to clear seaweed from the rudders of his Eco 60 yacht Operon Racing. “I don’t know how bad my wounds are, but I know that I was bleeding badly,” he said today. “At once I put on a head dressing to stop the bleeding. I couldn’t even estimate the size of my wound because my eyes were flooded with blood and couldn’t look at the mirror. I was really scared that I might not make it and lose consciousness because of the blood lost.”

The injury means Gutek has been forced to stay down below on Operon Racing to keep the cuts dry and free from infection. “I can’t go outside, because the waves come onboard very often and the boat is sailing with quite a big heel,” the 36-year-old added. “I don’t want to get my wound wet. The blades had enough sea salt on them. My wound is on my forehead, up under the hair. Not one cut, but a couple of them. It is just impossible to make a stitch – I will have a big scar for sure.”

Although the VELUX 5 OCEANS’ team of medical experts from Medical Offshore Support (MSOS) are on call 24/7, Gutek has been in regular contact his wife Eliza, a veterinary surgeon, for advice on dressing the wound. All of the skippers received medical training before setting sail from La Rochelle, and MSOS provide round-the-clock medical support to skippers while they are at sea.

Meanwhile American Brad Van Liew extended his lead over second-placed Gutek and the chasing pack as he charged south, just to the west of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Senegal. More than 60 nautical miles now separate the two, with Canadian Derek Hatfield around 200 nautical miles behind Brad in third place.

“It’s all been about going fast these last few days and laying down some miles,” Brad said. “I feel great to have stretched out a little bit on Derek and gotten a little bit of an advantage over Gutek. The Tradewinds are a good place to do that – if you have the horsepower and you are willing to lose a little sleep you just keep the boat fully powered up which is what I have been doing. I’ve been pushing the boat hard the last few days, sometimes on the verge.”

The racers at the leading edge of the pack have enjoyed some quick days of sailing, often covering more than 300 nautical miles in a day in favourable conditions. However one of their biggest challenges lays in wait – the Doldrums. Notorious for its light but unpredictable weather, the Doldrums is one of the most challenging areas of the world to sail through.

“We’re going to get the rubber band effect with the fleet, meaning it’s going to contract and expand here and there in the next few days” said Brad. “I think what’s more likely is the rubber band will get tighter and looser depending on what happens in the Doldrums – that’s the next big thing.”

The skippers are just nine days into the first of five ocean sprints that make up the VELUX 5 OCEANS, but Brad is already finding his feet, alone at sea for the first time in eight years. Brad has taken part in this race twice before, winning class two of the event in 2002. “I’m having a lot of fun getting to know the boat and getting back in the groove,” he said. “It’s been a lot of years since I did a voyage this big, especially alone, and I’m enjoying being out here more than I ever have before. It’s so far been a fantastic sail on a great boat in a great event.”

British solo sailor Chris Stanmore-Major has been recovering after a crazy few days onboard Spartan which saw him fight to recover his reaching headsail after the fitting attaching it to the front of his yacht broke twice in 48 hours. Stanmore-Major was left with no choice but to drop the sail in the sea then haul it, heavy and wet, back onto Spartan’s deck.

“I am proud I got that sail back in and didn’t just cut it away,” he said. “Yes, I lost time but I gained a chance for another leg of this race. I repaired all the damage the incident did although Spartan will carry some of the scars to Cape Town. But most importantly I feel I have passed to a new level of respect and understanding of these boats. Perhaps it is that in the end which will help towards future success if now it has only lost me more time and let the others slip further away.”

Belgian sailor Christophe Bullens has been struggling to find breeze after passing Cape Finisterre off the north west tip of Spain last night. His progress has also been hampered by electrical problems on his yacht Five Oceans of Smiles too.

“Here there is no wind and the problem is I don’t have any electronics. No wind speed or wind direction, no boat speed, no radar and my autopilot doesn’t work anymore. Apart from that the boat is going really well and each day I hope to repair one more thing.”

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: 4,446; 0; 304.9; 12.7
Gutek: 4,512.9; 66.9; 281.5; 11.7
Derek Hatfield: 4,658.4; 212.4; 258.3; 10.8
Chris Stanmore-Major: 4979.3; 533.3; 185.5; 7.6
Christophe Bullens: 6,102.1; 1,656.1; 137.8; 5.7

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.

48 HOURS OF DRAMA ON THE SEAS FOR CHRIS STANMORE-MAJOR IN THE VELUX 5 OCEANS

October 25th, 2010

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.