American expected to cross finish line on Sunday

Le Pingouin - credit Ainhoa Sanchez w-w-i AMERICAN solo sailor Brad Van Liew is on the verge of victory in the first leg of the VELUX 5 OCEANS. The experienced 42-year-old skipper has less than 600 nautical miles to go to reach the finish line of the first of five ocean sprints that make up the 30,000-mile Ultimate Solo Challenge.

No result is certain and the race is not yet over – but without any major upsets Brad will lead the fleet into Cape Town in the next few days as winner of the first leg after setting sail from La Rochelle in France on October 17.

Ocean sprint one has seen a fascinating and tense battle between Brad on Le Pingouin and Polish ocean racer Zbigniew Gutkowski on Operon Racing. Brad is a veteran of two past editions of the VELUX 5 OCEANS, winning class two in the 2002 race, while 36-year-old Gutek, a newcomer to the solo sailing world, hails from an Olympic dinghy racing background.

From day one Gutek has pushed Brad to the limit, chasing him hard through the North Atlantic, across the Equator and into the South Atlantic, never more than a few hundred miles behind and on several occasions even in front. Gutek’s aggressive, relentless attack was a welcome surprise to Brad, whose yacht Le Pingouin is seven years younger than Gutek’s Operon Racing.

“I gotta say I didn’t expect to have to come out of the gate swinging so hard,” Brad said. “I thought round one was going to be a little bit of getting to know everyone. Then Gutek just stepped into the ring and smacked me one right on the nose straight out of the gate. Obviously then I retaliated and we’ve been beating each other up pretty hard since. I’ve just been so tired and pushing so much harder than I’ve ever pushed.”

The pair have been locked in a bitter duel for more 26 days now. Around 500 nautical miles separate them as they make their final approaches into Cape Town, Brad taking a more northerly route over the top of a high pressure system and Gutek opting for the southerly route, dipping into the Roaring Forties.

“If I can keep the boat moving fast enough to stay in front of the light air I’ll have put him in a place where there’s no chance of catching me,” Brad added. “Now there is nothing left for me or Gutek to do, he’s played every card in his hand, I’ve played every card in mine, and we’re just waiting to see who ends up winning.”

It’s been an amazing display of sailing from Gutek, who joined the race somewhat of a dark horse. “From the very beginning I was saying that for me just to finish each of these legs would be a great deal,” Gutek said. “Also being placed other than the last one would be a surprise. But now I am second. It’s very good, but I feel unsatisfied because I know I could be further ahead than I am now - I wouldn’t say first, but more in front that now, definitely closer to Cape Town.”

In the past 24 hours Brad has sailed 312 nautical miles, 90 more than Gutek, at an average speed of 13 knots. Brad estimated today that he will arrive in Cape Town around midday on Sunday, with Gutek expected in around 24 hours later. But no yacht race is really over until the first boat crosses the line! On arrival, the Eco 60 yachts will berth in the North Harbour at the V&A Waterfront where members of the public can come to see them and meet their skippers.

Statistics from 12pm UTC position report:

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: 602.7; 0; 312.7; 13
Gutek: 1,126.3; 523.6; 221.6; 9.2
Derek Hatfield: 1,837.9; 1,235.2; 262.7; 10.9
Chris Stanmore-Major: 1,965.9; 1,363.2; 255.8; 10.7
Christophe Bullens: 4,328.6; 3,725.9; 56; 2.3