Photos: Ainhoa Sanchez/Velux 5 Oceans

Underway from Charleston

Derek Hatfield leads the charge on the Velux 5 Oceans' final leg

Saturday May 14th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: United States

The fifth and final leg of the Velux 5 Ocean set sail from Charleston, South Carolina today, the four Eco 60s setting out on a transatlantic leg that should see them arrive in La Rochelle in around 12 days time.

Conditions were perfect with a 12 to 15 knot breeze building to around 20 knots as start time approached. With just minutes until the start Brad Van Liew, Derek Hatfield, Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski and Chris Stanmore-Major turned their bows towards the line, powered up their boats and began the first charge of the 3,600 mile sprint back to France, where they started the race more than eight months ago.

At 1500 local time (1900 GMT) the gun went and the boats crossed the line, Canadian Derek Hatfield aboard Active House first to cross for the first time this race. Metres apart and just seconds behind were Gutkowski’s Operon Racing, van Liew on Le Pingouin and Stanmore-Major on Spartan.

But it was all change by the time the boats reached the first mark, around a mile from the start line. Stanmore-Major put on a display of Spartan’s capabilities, finding extra speed and flying past his race rivals to reach the turning mark in first place. From that moment on it was out into open sea for skippers, next stop France.

Earlier in the day hundreds of people packed the docks at Charleston Maritime Center for an emotionally-charged farewell ceremony. More than 80 spectator boats joined the four Eco 60s on the water, accompanying them for the long passage out to the start line.

With a 3m swell running outside of the harbour the spectator fleet was reduced to around 30 of the hardiest support boats – but those that stayed were rewarded with one of the most exciting starts the race has seen.

Leg five promises to be full of exhilaration and drama – with each skipper facing their challenges. Charleston’s hometown hero van Liew has amassed an unassailable lead at the head of the fleet and in order to take the overall Velux 5 Oceans race win he only has to finish this leg. That provides something of a dilemma for the 43-year-old, who must decide whether to push for a clean sweep of all five legs or throttle back and accept a position lower in the fleet.

For Hatfield and Gutkowski the fight will be a personal one, each starting the leg tied on 43 points. The winner of their one-on-one battle will claim second place, with the loser having to settle for less. Buoyed by podium positions in the previous two legs, Stanmore-Major will be waiting to pounce on any mistakes made by his rivals.

Vital bonus points are once again on offer for the fastest boats through the sprint five speed gate set between latitudes 35°W and 20°W. But just to throw in one last twist, the race committee have ruled that the skippers must enter the gate south of 48°N – a big diversion from the great circle. It will make for some very interesting racing and some tough decisions for the skippers.

Stealth mode also returns for the final sprint, allowing the racers to hide their positions from each other as well as the public for 24 hours. Unlike previous leg where skippers could use stealth mode twice, on leg five they will only be allowed one opportunity to enter stealth mode.

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