Photo: Ainhoa Sanchez/Velux 5 Oceans

And then there were four

As a second mast track breakage forces Christophe Bullens to retire from the Velux 5 Oceans

Monday January 3rd 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: South Africa

Belgian solo sailor Christophe Bullens has been forced to retire from the Velux 5 Oceans following a string of technical problems onboard his yacht, Five Oceans of Smiles. After a catalogue of breakages and equipment failures the final straw came just an hour after setting sail from Cape Town for the third time when the mast track ripped out for the second time.

Bullen’s return to Cape Town means that he will not be able to complete the second leg of the solo round the world yacht race before it restarts again from Wellington, New Zealand, on 6 February. Fears of having to sail through the Southern Ocean, and its potential safety issues further added to Bullen's decision. The move is a bitter blow for the 49-year-old who has overcome so many problems and shown so much grit and determination since the Velux 5 Oceans started in La Rochelle in October.

“All the problems encountered have finally beaten me and have prevented me from continuing,” said Bullens. “Unfortunately I have no other choice than to withdraw from the race. It is not reasonable, and even dangerous, to go on. At a certain moment one must be realistic instead of being proud and stubborn. We don’t do this race to prove ourselves to others but it is a challenge with oneself and I can’t commit the people who supported me until now on a path beyond reason.”

David Adams, Velux 5 Oceans Race Director, said: “Christophe has shown an amazing amount of tenacity chasing his dream to compete in the Velux 5 Oceans. He is a fantastic role model for the sport and embodies everything the race stands for. It is sad to see Christophe withdraw from racing but his decision is a sensible one given the conditions he will face in the Southern Ocean and beyond. We wish Christophe the best of luck for the future and hope to see him on the start line of the Velux 5 Oceans in 2014.”

Here’s a timeline of events that led to his withdrawal:

October 5, 2010: Bullens' original Eco 60 Five Oceans of Smiles is dismasted en route to La Rochelle. He and his team start the search for another yacht to race in
October 13, 2010: Four days before the race start Bullens acquires Artech from French sailor Jean-Baptiste Dejeanty
October 17, 2010: Bullens starts the Velux 5 Oceans with the rest of the fleet before returning to La Rochelle after a 48-hour qualification passage
October 24, 2010: After making preparations to his new boat, Bullens sets sail from La Rochelle a week behind the rest of the fleet
November 1, 2010: Bullens  forced to stop in Gran Canaria for 48 hours after strong winds split his mainsail and broke several battens
November 10, 2010: Bullens diverts to the Cape Verde Islands to seek medical attention after developing a fever
November 25, 2010: Around a tonne of water floods into Five Oceans of Smiles
November 28, 2010: Five Oceans of Smiles hits a whale
December 6, 2010: After 49 days at sea, Bullens arrives in Cape Town with just five days until ocean sprint two starts
December 16, 2010: Leg two starts four days later than scheduled due to strong off Cape Town
December 17, 2010: Bullens returns to Cape Town after the electronics on his yacht failed and rudder problems
December 20, 2010: After an amazing effort by a team of volunteers on the dock in Cape Town Bullens restarts leg two
December 22, 2010: Problems with the mast track on Five Oceans of Smiles too force Bullens to return to Cape Town
January 1, 2011: Bullens sets sail from Cape Town again but is forced to return after the mast track breaks again
January 3, 2011: Bullens withdraws from the Velux 5 Oceans

Despite his disappointment, Bullens remained characteristically positive about his experience in the Velux 5 Oceans. He said: “I have been racing a lot in my life and this is the first time I have seen so much mutual help, so much brotherhood between the competitors, their families, the technical teams, organisation and supporters. The Eco 60 is a fantastic class. It is the only one in the world where in a solo race I have had so many crew.”

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