Polish ocean racer suffers deep cuts to forehead as fleet heads south

Gutek and his bandaged head IT has been another day of drama for the VELUX 5 OCEANS skippers as they head further south towards the Equator. Following on from a manic day on the water yesterday which saw Brad Van Liew’s Le Pingouin knocked flat for the second time in days and Chris Stanmore-Major nearly lose his headsail twice, Polish ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski became the first skipper to sustain a notable injury after slicing his head open on the blade of his wind generator.

Gutek suffered several cuts to his head as he tried to clear seaweed from the rudders of his Eco 60 yacht Operon Racing. “I don’t know how bad my wounds are, but I know that I was bleeding badly,” he said today. “At once I put on a head dressing to stop the bleeding. I couldn’t even estimate the size of my wound because my eyes were flooded with blood and couldn’t look at the mirror. I was really scared that I might not make it and lose consciousness because of the blood lost.”

The injury means Gutek has been forced to stay down below on Operon Racing to keep the cuts dry and free from infection. “I can’t go outside, because the waves come onboard very often and the boat is sailing with quite a big heel,” the 36-year-old added. “I don’t want to get my wound wet. The blades had enough sea salt on them. My wound is on my forehead, up under the hair. Not one cut, but a couple of them. It is just impossible to make a stitch – I will have a big scar for sure.”

Although the VELUX 5 OCEANS’ team of medical experts from Medical Offshore Support (MSOS) are on call 24/7, Gutek has been in regular contact his wife Eliza, a veterinary surgeon, for advice on dressing the wound. All of the skippers received medical training before setting sail from La Rochelle, and MSOS provide round-the-clock medical support to skippers while they are at sea.

Meanwhile American Brad Van Liew extended his lead over second-placed Gutek and the chasing pack as he charged south, just to the west of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Senegal. More than 60 nautical miles now separate the two, with Canadian Derek Hatfield around 200 nautical miles behind Brad in third place.

“It’s all been about going fast these last few days and laying down some miles,” Brad said. “I feel great to have stretched out a little bit on Derek and gotten a little bit of an advantage over Gutek. The Tradewinds are a good place to do that – if you have the horsepower and you are willing to lose a little sleep you just keep the boat fully powered up which is what I have been doing. I’ve been pushing the boat hard the last few days, sometimes on the verge.”

The racers at the leading edge of the pack have enjoyed some quick days of sailing, often covering more than 300 nautical miles in a day in favourable conditions. However one of their biggest challenges lays in wait – the Doldrums. Notorious for its light but unpredictable weather, the Doldrums is one of the most challenging areas of the world to sail through.

“We’re going to get the rubber band effect with the fleet, meaning it’s going to contract and expand here and there in the next few days” said Brad. “I think what’s more likely is the rubber band will get tighter and looser depending on what happens in the Doldrums - that’s the next big thing.”

The skippers are just nine days into the first of five ocean sprints that make up the VELUX 5 OCEANS, but Brad is already finding his feet, alone at sea for the first time in eight years. Brad has taken part in this race twice before, winning class two of the event in 2002. “I’m having a lot of fun getting to know the boat and getting back in the groove,” he said. “It’s been a lot of years since I did a voyage this big, especially alone, and I’m enjoying being out here more than I ever have before. It’s so far been a fantastic sail on a great boat in a great event.”

British solo sailor Chris Stanmore-Major has been recovering after a crazy few days onboard Spartan which saw him fight to recover his reaching headsail after the fitting attaching it to the front of his yacht broke twice in 48 hours. Stanmore-Major was left with no choice but to drop the sail in the sea then haul it, heavy and wet, back onto Spartan’s deck.

"I am proud I got that sail back in and didn't just cut it away," he said. "Yes, I lost time but I gained a chance for another leg of this race. I repaired all the damage the incident did although Spartan will carry some of the scars to Cape Town. But most importantly I feel I have passed to a new level of respect and understanding of these boats. Perhaps it is that in the end which will help towards future success if now it has only lost me more time and let the others slip further away.”

Belgian sailor Christophe Bullens has been struggling to find breeze after passing Cape Finisterre off the north west tip of Spain last night. His progress has also been hampered by electrical problems on his yacht Five Oceans of Smiles too.

“Here there is no wind and the problem is I don’t have any electronics. No wind speed or wind direction, no boat speed, no radar and my autopilot doesn’t work anymore. Apart from that the boat is going really well and each day I hope to repair one more thing.”

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: 4,446; 0; 304.9; 12.7
Gutek: 4,512.9; 66.9; 281.5; 11.7
Derek Hatfield: 4,658.4; 212.4; 258.3; 10.8
Chris Stanmore-Major: 4979.3; 533.3; 185.5; 7.6
Christophe Bullens: 6,102.1; 1,656.1; 137.8; 5.7

The VELUX 5 OCEANS, run by Clipper Ventures PLC, is the longest running solo round the world race, and has 28 years of rich heritage as the BOC Challenge and then the Around Alone. This edition features five ocean sprints over nine months. After leaving from La Rochelle on October 17th the fleet now head to Cape Town, the race will then take in Wellington in New Zealand, Salvador in Brazil and Charleston in the US before returning back across the Atlantic to France.