Velux 5 Oceans Polish skipper Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski has put in a stellar performance over the last 24 hours, covering some 325 miles to come within just 30 miles of current leader Brad Van Liew.
Having hit and remained stuck to a tree during the first night of racing, Gutek’s Operon Racing dropped back into fourth position and made slow progress, but his strong recovery means that the first three boats are now all within 42 miles of each other and there’s everything to play for.
Tactically, Gutek has sailed an almost identical course as Brad on Le Pingouin and Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield on Active House, and his relentless pursuit of them has seen him overtake Derek and claw back valuable miles on Brad. However distance to the finish aside, with all four skippers so close on the vertical plane, a slip-up from any one of them could see the leadership change fast, a fact sure to be adding tension to the fleet.
The skippers have been enjoying some great conditions, riding a low that came out of the tropics and has given them a strong bubble of up to 30 knot winds. This north/north westerly has provided the fleet with good reaching conditions, which Brad clearly appreciated. 'I felt like I was in the groove and the weather offered about 22 knots of breeze and mellow waves. It was like sailing in the trade winds,' he said.
In the next day or so that band of weather looks set to contract. If the skippers can keep their speeds up then their good run may continue on with it, but if not the next wind is likely to be more variable and somewhat lighter before they are again under the influence of the predominantly heavier westerlies.
In fourth position, Chris Stanmore-Major on Spartan has slightly lost contact with the fleet, about 134 miles behind Brad at the 06h00 UTC position reports. A split in his staysail at the start in Wellington on Sunday slowed him significantly and has caused him to go up the mast three times already. Having fixed it he’s powered up again, notching up 271 miles in the last 24 hours and he’s feeling positive.
'I have been able to get back up the mast and I am back up to full speed. It’s very reassuring to have that sail working again before I get properly into the Southern Ocean. It’s the one I use in up to 40 knots off the wind so heading into the Southern Ocean without it would have been a bit like driving down a motorway with your front wheels loose – not a good idea,' he said.
True to form the Southern Ocean is not likely to make things easy for any of the skippers, but those who can stay focussed and remain in the influence of the current weather conditions could be on course for a great run to Cape Horn. Best probably to stick to Gutek’s methods: 'What can I say? I just pushed really, really hard.'
Ocean sprint three positions at 06h00 UTC:
Skipper / distance to finish (nm) / distance to leader (nm) / distance covered in last 24 hours (nm) / average speed in last 24 hours (kts)
Brad Van Liew, Le Pingouin: 4993/ 0/ 326.1 /13.6
Zbigniew Gutkowski, Operon Racing: 5021.3 /28.3 /321.2/13.4
Derek Hatfield, Active House: 5034.7 /41.7/ 310.2 /12.9
Chris Stanmore-Major, Spartan: 5126.7/ 133.7/ 271 / 11.3 www.velux5oceans.com