Velux 5 Oceans - Gutek battling keel problems

Operon Racing: Sprint 5 - Velux 5 Oceans
Ainhoa Sanchez/Velux 5 Oceans
Velux 5 Oceans skipper Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski saw drama overnight onboard Operon Racing when one of the keel rams broke.

After having suffered with keel problems since Cape Horn, the Polish skipper is now forced to rely on his temporary repair to help get him the 515 miles to the finish line. He still has the port keel ram in place and is continuing to race despite the cruel blow at the final hurdle of the Velux 5 Oceans.

As he explained: 'I had a problem with my keel ram. It broke in two pieces during the night. I managed to provide a temporary repair using spare rudder tillers (the best piece of equipment I ever had as a spare) and spectra rope, which is extra strong. I think it should hold until the finish line'.

When the breakage initially happened aboard his Eco 60 yacht the Polish skipper feared the worst: 'It was a loud bang and my first thought was that I had lost my mast. The most important thing is that I am still alive. The conditions were really demanding and my keel has not been right since Cape Horn. I was scared, very scared, but I am still in the game. I can't stop because in 12 hours the wind will change completely and it will be harder than it is now,' he said.

At the 1200 UTC position report Brad Van Liew has just 400 miles to go and is expected into La Rochelle late tomorrow (Friday) afternoon. Chris ‘CSM’ Stanmore-Major is currently in second place, around 80 miles behind him. Gutek lies third,113 miles behind race leader Brad Van Liew and has a 77 mile advantage over Derek Hatfield.

The race between them remains crucial in deciding who will come second and third on the final podium after nine months and 30,000 miles at sea in The Ultimate Solo Challenge.

'I am doing what I can now, a bit slower than I was sailing before,' said Gutek. 'The reason is that I can't move my keel now. I don't want to touch this all-hydraulic system because I don't want to make anything worse. It's the kind of thing you just can't imagine breaking, it's unbelievable'.

Showing the grit that we’ve come to expect from Gutek he said: 'I was really ready to go into the raft. But I started to think how to fix the problem and while I was doing that I started to think how to win with Chris and Brad, so I think there’s definitely something not OK with my mind - to hang on to your life and still think only about racing!'

In an added twist the results for the last speed gate of this Velux 5 Oceans are in, and Brad Van Liew topped the table, followed by Chris ‘CSM’ Stanmore-Major. Gutek was third, which means that Derek Hatfield now needs to beat the Polish skipper by at least one place for the pair to tie for second in ocean sprint five.

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: 402.1 / 0 / 359.4 / 15
Chris Stanmore-Major, Spartan: 481.3 / 79.2 / 366.3 / 15.3
Zbigniew Gutkowski, Operon Racing: 515.2 / 113.1 / 323.9 / 13.5
Derek Hatfield, Active House: 592.7 / 190.6 / 293.2 / 12.2

Velux 5 Oceans website