Velux 5 Oceans - Solo skipper Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski is today facing a nervous rounding of Cape Horn after developing keel problems on his Eco 60 yacht Operon Racing.
The 36-year-old Polish yachtsman reported hearing dull knocking sounds as his yacht smashed through huge Southern Ocean waves on the approach to Cape Horn, the Everest of sailing and the pinnacle of leg three of the Velux 5 Oceans. On closer inspection Gutek found to his horror that the pins joining Operon Racing’s keel to the hull were moving.
It is suspected that a composite part covering the two pins that hold the keel in place has broken, allowing the four-ton keel to move around 3mm at the top of the keel blade. The movement makes a knocking noise as Operon Racing accelerates down waves.
Weather conditions approaching Cape Horn, one of the most notorious bodies of water in the world, have not helped Gutek’s situation. While struggling to solve the problems on Operon Racing Gutek was hit by a huge storm which brought 75-knot winds and 15-meter waves. Operon Racing was close to rolling over on two occasions.
'I was really scared at first,' Gutek said. 'We are so close to Cape Horn, the hardest part of this leg, after more than 4,000 miles sailed.
I almost cried. But I have had many words of hope and encouragement, and I also got some opinions from the architect who built this keel. It’s made in such a way that it should hold.'
It is thought the problem may be related to an incident just a few days after leaving Wellington where Gutek hit a submerged tree. At 19 years old, Operon Racing is the oldest yacht in the Velux 5 Oceans fleet and has been round the world three times previously.
The Velux 5 Oceans race management is in constant contact with Gutek and are monitoring his situation closely as he makes his rounding of Cape Horn. The Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) are also aware of the situation. Third-placed Derek Hatfield was this morning just 30 nautical miles behind Gutek and on standby to assist if needed. The race management has also been in contact with Operon Racing’s designer as well as a hydraulics specialist who has advised Gutek to keep the keel fully canted to reduce movement.
Velux 5 Oceans Race director David Adams said: 'As soon as we were notified of the keel problem we in turn notified the MRCC in Chile. We told them we were monitoring a yacht with keel problems but that there were no major concerns. We have put Derek Hatfield on notice and we know he could be with Gutek within five to eight hours if needed. The situation is a tough one for Gutek but one he is dealing with professionally with safety being the priority.'
At 1200 UTC Gutek was 68 nautical miles from Cape Horn. He plans to continue to the sprint three finish line in Punta del Este, Uruguay, around 1,300 miles north of Cape Horn.
'I’m not thinking about racing now,' Gutek said. 'I would like to get my boat to Punta in one piece. I hope the swell in the Atlantic will be not as huge as here and it will be easier. It's not the first trouble on my way, but I am in touch with a race committee and MRCC and my team, and that cheers me up. Now the most important thing is to round Cape Horn'. Ocean sprint three positions at 12h00 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: 1111.1/ 0 /128.1/ 5.3
Zbigniew Gutkowski, Operon Racing: 1370.5/ 259.5 / 252.6 / 10.5
Derek Hatfield, Active House: 1400.2/ 289.1 / 255.6 / 10.6
Chris Stanmore-Major, Spartan: 1555.6 / 444.5 / 274 / 11.4 Skipper quotes:
'When sailing with very strong wind, the boat was unnaturally loaded by the waves. Suddenly I heard a strange sound, a dull one. I was thinking it was something on deck and couldn’t localize it. Then I noticed one of the keel rams moving. I thought that something just loosened and I was trying to screw it back with a boat-made tool, but it kept moving. Later, when the boat hit the water strongly, I noticed the keel was moving too. I was really scared and decided to inform the race management about my problem. I managed to block the keel in a way that keeps the swinging side-to-side at the minimum and not knocking.
'The noise depends on the force of the boat when it hits the wave. The boat stops and then keel hits it with a loud bang. Its better when the boat is on its side, then the keel is loaded, and when it is straight down its just hanging. It’s not a metallic sound, more a dull one. The hard knock gives the impact on the ram and on nearest bulkhead, so I can just feel it in my legs.
'I don’t know what the reason for the failure is, maybe hitting the tree the first night after leaving New Zealand. It was a big hit. All that system is complicated and the reason could be just because of age of that part.' Velux 5 Oceans website