Polish skipper powerless as sprint win possibility slips away

Operon Racing - credit onEdition POLISH ocean racer Zbigniew Gutkowski has suffered a painstaking blow to his fight for first place in the first leg of the VELUX 5 OCEANS after losing a vital sail. The 36-year-old, known by his nickname Gutek, had been locked in a tense battle with American Brad Van Liew since the race started from La Rochelle, France, three weeks ago.

Gutek had even clawed back hundreds of miles in Operon Racing, a much older boat than Brad’s Le Pingouin, momentarily taking the lead. But disaster struck for Gutek when one of his halyards which hold up a yacht’s sails broke and his gennaker, a big sail that flies from the front of the boat powering it along, fell into the ocean. The sail was instantly destroyed, leaving Gutek with only a smaller, less effective foresail to replace it with.

The loss of the gennaker means that as long as there are no major incidents for Brad in the final 1,500 nautical miles to Cape Town, Gutek’s chances of catching him appear all but over. After being within grasp of the American for so long, Gutek has only been able to watch as the distance between the two boats grows. The latest position report put Operon Racing 280 nautical miles behind Le Pingouin.

“I want to cry now,” Gutek said as the consequences started to sink in. “All night it was a really fast sprint to catch up with the low pressure system. Then my halyard broke. This time my gennaker fell down into the water. Really, I didn’t have the slightest chance to save my last sail – it just went into pieces once it got into the water. Now, as for my foresails, I only have a jib left, so the truth is I have nothing to chase Brad with. I'm angry, very angry.”

Unaware of the extent of the problems onboard Operon Racing, Brad has continued to push hard towards Cape Town and the ocean sprint one finish line. He has gone for more than 30 hours without sleep, unwilling to drop his guard for even the shortest amount of time.

“I've got a westerly wind and I'll have to carefully calculate my gybes,” Brad said. “I think going north then down south to Cape Town. But I'll have to keep an eye on the anticyclone. If I get stuck, Gutek will overtake me from below.”

The latest ETA for Brad is early on Sunday, November 14, with Gutek predicted to arrive in Cape Town a day later on Monday, November 15.

Statistics from 12pm UTC position report:

Skipper - Boat: distance of arrival (NM) / distance from the leader / 24 hour distance / average speed 24 (knots)

1. Brad Van Liew - The Penguin: 1459 miles / 0 / 322.7 miles / 13.4 knots
2. Zbigniew Gutkowski - Operon Racing 1 739.5 miles / 280.5 miles / 194 miles / 8.1 knots
3. Derek Hatfield - Active House 2 525.9 miles / 1066.9 miles / 24.3 miles / 1 nodes
4. Chris Stanmore-Major - Spartan 2 658.4 miles / 1 199.4 miles / 159.5 miles / 6.6 knots
5. Christophe Bullens - Five Oceans of Smiles: 4492 miles / 3033.1 miles / 124 miles / 5.2 knots