How far west to go?

Velux 5 Oceans foursome past Cape Finistere

Tuesday October 19th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

With two full days at sea now under their belts, the Velux 5 Oceans skippers are finding their rhythm and enjoying the psychological boost of the first major milestone - rounding Cape Finisterre and getting out of the busy shipping lanes.

American, Brad Van Liew, remains in the lead, but Polish ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski is hot on his heals with the first four boats now separated by 40 miles. Chris Stanmore-Major’s Spartan, steered a different course to the rest overnight, staying close into to La Coruna in search of better wind.

At present the North Atlantic weather remains upside down. There is a depression over the Azores and over the next couple of days this is forecast to head slowly southeast as an area of high pressure takes up its rightful position over the Azores. So while the Trades Winds are set to resume by Thursday in the meantime the skippers have to make the call on how far west to head in order to remain in the breeze.

It is clear that Van Liew’s enjoying the competitive side of the race: “Gutek is obviously pushing pretty hard but we’re all getting to know each other and you have to just keep sailing and not think about it too much.”

Although he is in the lead, Van Liew is not having the most easy time of things, he has been unwell since before the start and has managed hardly any sleep since leaving La Rochelle on Sunday. “I have had a couple of 20 minute naps but that’s about it. I can race the boat and I can do all the physical stuff but my head still feels pretty stuffed up and my throat is very sore.”

Van Liew has already had to make repairs to his hydro-generator: “Ironically my super-duper, eco-friendly hydro-generator picked up a trash bag which got wrapped around it and broke the system for holding it down, so I have been trying to find a new way to hold it down.” At least he did manage to do his bit for the environment: “You’ll be pleased to know I did manage to retrieve the trash bag….”

The battle between Pole and American shows no signs of calming down, and Gutkowski, who’s boat Operon is the oldest of the fleet, and who’s solo offshore sailing is relatively untested compared to his opponent, doesn’t intend to give him a moments peace: “I saw Brad not long ago, we were sailing together side by side with about 2 miles distance between. Later on we both got into a no-wind pattern, he managed better with it so he went. His boat is very much faster than mine, so I am glad how I am doing now” reported Gutkowski.

The highly competitive Pole seems relaxed despite also having slept only a little, with his focus squarely on going faster: “I didn’t get my proper rhythm yet. There are too many things around, a big shipping traffic, I have to be very careful. The weather situation also needs constant reconsidering and I don’t want to miss any chance to go faster than now. That’s why I don’t sleep too much, one hour non-stop was my best.”

Canadian, Derek Hatfield is looking forward to the temperature getting warmer but frustrated with his speed: "I’m a bit disappointed with my position since the start. I can’t seem to sleep too much, and the wind is so light that you have to concentrate all the time on the weather and keeping the boat going."

However he recognises that it is still very early on in the sprint to Cape Town: “It’s the start, so everybody is pushing hard and we’ll all settle down into a routine. It’s only day two, which is really hard to believe as it feels like I’ve been at sea for at least five days!”

Meanwhile Belgian skipper Christophe Bullens has arrived back in La Rochelle aboard Five Oceans of Smiles Too having completed a 48 hour mini-qualification sail, to test his new boat and satisfy the Race Management of his ability to sail it.

“It’s a very good boat," he commented. "The sails are good and the boat is very fast. I have a few jobs to do and I have to learn her a bit but that will be okay.”

Bullens aims to set off on Friday morning and the fleet of five will continue on their 7,500nm journey to Cape Town where they are expected to arrive from mid-November on.

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