Polish skipper suffers head injury

The latest drama in the Velux 5 Oceans

Wednesday October 27th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

It has been another day of drama for the Velux 5 Oceans skippers as they continue 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 a second time and Chris Stanmore-Major nearly lose his headsail twice, Polish ocean racer Zbigniew Gutkowski became the first skipper to sustain an injury after slicing his head open on the blade of his wind generator.

Gutkowski  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 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 Brad Van Liew extended his lead over the injured Pole. Overnight both Le Pingouin and Operon Racing have passed to the west of the Cape Verde Islands, and at 0600 Van Liew was roughly 74 miles ahead of his Polish rival.

“It’s all been about going fast these last few days and laying down some miles,” commented van Liew. “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 in the Trades, often covering more than 300 nautical miles in a day in favourable conditions as they thunder on towards the Doldrums.

“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” continued van Liew. “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. I’m having a lot of fun getting to know the boat and getting back in the groove. 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 his spinnaker trawling incident onboard Spartan.  “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 last night.  He reported: “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.”

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