Photo: On Edition

Second home in the Velux 5 Oceans

Zbigniew Gutkowski reaches Cape Town three days behind Brad van Liew

Thursday November 18th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: South Africa

After exactly one month at sea, Polish ocean racer Zbigniew Gutkowski sailed into Cape Town this evening to claim second place on the Velux 5 Oceans' first leg from La Rochelle. The 36-year-old, known as Gutek, crossed the finish line off the South African coast at 10.03pm local time, with a course time of 31 days, six hours and three minutes.

After a frustrating few days of light winds on the approach to Cape Town, Gutkowski completed the leg in fresh conditions, a southeasterly breeze of between 20 and 25 knots powering him across the finish with the lights of Cape Town illuminated in the background.

Gutkowski , a former national dinghy champion, impressed right from the start of the solo round the world race, leading the Velux 5 Oceans fleet across the start line of this first stage and out into the Bay of Biscay. Despite problems with his Eco 60 yacht Operon Racing early on, Gutek kept pace with American rival Brad Van Liew, constantly challenging for first place right until the end of the 7,400-mile leg.

Setting foot on land for the first time since ocean sprint one start day on 17 October, Gutkowski said: “I am so glad to be here. It was a really exciting race. All the time I was so close to Brad – beating him was my motivation. I found out one very important thing on this trip – I can sail solo. I had never done it before, and so before the start I didn’t know if I could do it or not. But now I am confident I can sail solo anywhere.”

Gutkowski ’s finish was three days behind American Brad van Liew, who won the opening leg on Sunday evening. The feat is all the more impressive considering Gutek is a newcomer to solo sailing and, at 19 years old, Operon Racing is the oldest boat in the Velux 5 Oceans fleet - she was originally the ketch Bagages Superior, Alain Gautier's 1992-3 Vendee Globe winner, some seven years older than van Liew's Le Pingouin.

In the tradition of the Velux 5 Oceans, van Liew was on the dock to welcome in his rival and friend. Gutkowski was also reunited with his wife Eliza and his shore crew.

The Velux 5 Oceans' opening leg was something of a baptism of fire for Gutek. Just days into the race Gutek had to climb the mast to repair a broken halyard. Then, just over a week in, Gutek suffered deep cuts to his forehead after being hit by his wind generator. After shaving his hair off he then had to stitch up the wounds.

While chasing van LIew through the South Atlantic another halyard broke and Gutkowski was forced to climb the mast once more, this time in strong winds and huge seas. Just moments after setting his gennaker following the repair the halyard snapped again and the sail was lost over the side of the boat. This all but ended Gutkowski ’s chances of catching his American rival.

“I do feel a little bit upset because I lost out many times because of things breaking, mainly the sails,” Gutkowski added. “When I lost the gennaker just before Cape Town I tried to find conditions that would suit sailing with no gennaker but I couldn’t find them. I lost three, four, maybe five days.”

Statistics from 12pm UTC position report:

Skipper; distance to finish (nm); distance covered in last 24 hours (nm); average speed in last 24 hours (kts)

Brad Van Liew: finished Nov 14, 28 days, 1 hour, 51 mins
Gutek: finished Nov 17, 31 days, 6 hours, 3 mins
Derek Hatfield: 693; 176; 6.3
Chris Stanmore-Major: 943.9; 118.6; 4.9
Christophe Bullens: 3,578.2; 124.2; 5.2


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