Struggle to the start
In just one week a fleet of international ocean racers will leave La Rochelle, France to sail 30,000 miles singlehanded around the planet in the Velux 5 Oceans. Skippers are now making their final preparations.
Crowds have been flocking to the Velux 5 Oceans race village in the Bassin des Chalutiers since it was officially opened by the ocean racers yesterday. Visitors enjoyed the beautiful weather, music and the great atmosphere in the village. The race village is the largest in the race's 28-year history and boasts more than 50 exhibitors from the La Rochelle region as well as daily music and dance performances.
The pontoons have also been a hive of activity as the teams, many made up of volunteers, continue to prepare the Eco 60 ocean racing yachts for their huge global challenge.
Brad Van Liew, skipper of Le Pingouin, said: "Everything’s going well, the boat work is as we were expecting. It’s a long list but manageable. We’re hoping by Wednesday of next week to be done with the boat. At that point we’ll just clean up and make the boat as light as we can, put the food on, that sort of thing. Then it’s time to start focusing on the actual race. We will be putting the sails on in the next 24 hours, going sailing a couple of times early in the week, putting everything on board and getting out of here!"
"The weeks go by so quickly and as we get closer to the start time goes quicker and quicker," said Canadian ocean racer Derek Hatfield. The skipper of Active House added: “You come here and you think you have three weeks to do your preparations and you think everything is sorted. Of course, things happen and the list gets longer and you just continue to work on it. We feel we’re in a really good place. The new sails are coming on Wednesday so I think we’ll get to go sailing on Thursday. The sails are really the last piece of the puzzle. This last week have tuned the mast and sorted all the containers. I’m starting to think about the start next Sunday and of course I’m starting to miss the family a little bit.”
British solo sailor Chris Stanmore-Major and his team have been working flat out on Spartan since arriving in La Rochelle last week. “It’s been a really busy week,” he said. “Some of the guys that I worked with have come down to help all the skippers and we’ve been able to get a lot of jobs done very quickly. We’re pretty happy with where the boat’s at. The media system has been installed, the autopilot has been overhauled, we’ve painted, replaced ropes and heap of other things. Now the race village is open we’ve had loads of people coming onto the pontoons to look at the boats which is great. It’s great to be here.”
Polish skipper Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski relaunched his Eco 60 this week as Operon Racing after securing title sponsorship from publishing house Operon. The boat was rebranded and now sports a dark blue hull with silver lettering. He said: “I have lots of things in my mind right now. I’m not thinking about the race start yet – there are lots of things to do before then. All my time is spent preparing my boat. The preparations are going really well.”
Since dismasting en route to La Rochelle on Monday, Belgian ocean racer Christophe Bullens has been looking at possible Eco 60 yachts to charter for the Velux 5 Oceans. Bullens visited two Eco 60s in France this week with a view to chartering one, but that is now not possible.
“Our main partner cannot release the necessary money in such a short time,” he explained. “There is still a possibility: Simon Chalk’s boat, which was originally due to participate in this race, is available for rent. But if I leave on this race it is because I want to finish, so the only question now is whether the boat is ready to race. I won’t know this until I have seen it.”
Simon Chalk left Falmouth in the UK on board his Eco 60 Ocean Planet, last night bound for La Rochelle. Bullens will then evaluate the boat when it arrives. He and his team may have a race against time on their hands but he is determined more than ever to start the race.
Australian skipper Garry Golding is still in Gosport dealing with problems to the mast of his Eco 60 Oz. He is doing all he can to make it to La Rochelle.