Velux 5 Oceans under way
With the sun shining brightly and a fresh breeze blowing, the five skippers blasted across the Velux 5 Oceans start line today beginning the 30,000 mile singlehanded race around the globe with stops.
Thousands of people flocked to the Velux 5 Oceans race village in La Rochelle, France, to watch the brave men depart on their adventure. Crowds packed the race village and lined the walls surrounding the Bassin des Chalutiers to watch the emotional goodbyes as the skippers said farewell to their family and friends. Following a moving departure ceremony held on the steps of the Velux House the five Eco 60s left the dockside at 1300 to rapturous applause.
More than 400 spectator boats carrying thousands of fans, friends and family of the skippers and media accompanied the fleet out to the start area. A host of special guests were among the spectators including Maxime Bono, the Deputy Mayor of La Rochelle, and Jack Dillenbourg, the Mayor of Sport for La Rochelle. Race veterans including Isabelle Autissier, Jean Luc Van Den Heede, Thierry Dubois and Bernard Stamm as well as round the world sailor Nick Moloney joined race chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to watch the action from the water.
After months of build-up, the starting gun finally sounded at 4pm and the four-yearly race began. The 2010/11 edition of the race is the eighth its 28-year history.
Polish ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski showed his aggressive style of racing honed during years of top level dinghy racing hitting the start line right as the starting gun fired. Although Gutek’s yacht Operon Racing is the oldest boat in the fleet, it is a previous Vendée Globe winner [Alain Gautier's Bagages Superior] and he led the fleet to the first mark, south east of the Ile de Ré.
American sailor Brad Van Liew crossed the line in second place and chased hard, overtaking Gutek after the first mark. Van Liew has already completed the Velux 5 Oceans twice, winning class two in 2002. His yacht Le Pingouin also has a claim to fame, skippered by French solo sailor Catherine Chabaud for the 1998 Vendée Globe.
Canadian Derek Hatfield, Belgian Christophe Bullens and Briton Chris Stanmore-Major regularly swapped places as they raced out into the Bay of Biscay. However places are irrelevant at such an early stage of the race – the sailors have more than 7,000 nautical miles to go before they reach the first stopover in Cape Town, South Africa.
Christophe Bullens will sail a 48-hour qualification passage before returning to La Rochelle to carry out final preparations for the race. He already qualified in his yacht Five Oceans of Smiles but she was cruelly dismasted en route to La Rochelle three weeks before the race start. Christophe’s team worked tirelessly to find another Eco 60 to race on and with just days to go he acquired Artech 60, now renamed Five Oceans of Smiles too. Christophe is expected to set sail again from La Rochelle on Thursday.
The Velux 5 Oceans this year will stop in Cape Town, Wellington (New Zealand), Salvador (Brazil) and Charleston, USA before returning to La Rochelle, France.