Brad Van Liew doing everything he can to hold onto lead as finish line approaches

Brad Van Liew - credit Ainhoa Sanchez-w-w-iVELUX 5 OCEANS race leader Brad Van Liew is setting up for a one-on-one drag race to Cape Town with rival Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski as the pair battle it out for the top spot. After nearly three weeks at sea and more than 4,000 nautical miles sailed just 22 nautical miles separate the two skippers.

Brad has mostly led the race since the five skippers set sail from La Rochelle on October 17 but Polish sailor Gutek has refused to let the American slip out of reach. So desperate is Brad to keep his lead over Gutek that he has gone without sleep for a whole day, instead devoting his time to squeezing every last knot out of Le Pingouin.

“I’m so tired, it’s been a really tough couple of days,” Brad said this morning. “The last 24 hours have been a ‘no sleep’ zone. I’m trying to stop the bleeding with regards to losing my lead to Gutek. As I predicted a couple of days ago it looks like we’re going to have a bit of a drag race across the northern part of the Southern Ocean to Cape Town.”

Currently off the coast of Brazil, Brad and Gutek must negotiate the tricky St Helena High, a high pressure system that sits between them and their destination. Choosing the right moment to cross the South Atlantic is crucial – one bad call could easily cost each sailor hundreds of miles.

Waiting for the right weather conditions to make the turn towards Cape Town has cost Brad dearly. Becalmed for hours on end yesterday and making only 53 nautical miles in 24 hours, he could only watch as Gutek closed the gap overnight by more than 120 nautical miles.

“There’s this high pressure which is in my way and not in Gutek’s way,” added Brad. “I have to go south southwest to get round it so it doesn’t stop me for another 12 hours but right now I am pointing towards Cape Horn not Cape Town! If I hadn’t stayed totally on it and made every sail change and every tweak the boat needed we would have just really bled out our entire lead by now. There is a game plan and it’s better to be south here than not, so it’s not entirely bad, but it does mean Gutek has been able to keep his boat moving and more in the right direction than mine.”

But after all, this is a solo ocean yacht race, and the skippers take part not just for the challenge but also to win. With more than 2,500 nautical miles still to be sailed on this ocean sprint alone, it’s a side of the event that cries out to Brad’s competitive spirit.

“Gutek’s really putting the pedal down which is fantastic,” he said. “I am really enjoying the game, having fun trying to put my little pieces on the game board where they need to be to get in front of him when I need to. Hopefully when we arrive in Cape Town my game piece will be in front of his!”

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: 2,621; 0; 53.1; 2.2
Gutek: 2,643.2; 22.2; 172.5; 7.2
Derek Hatfield: 3,082; 461; 160.9; 6.7
Chris Stanmore-Major: 3,359.6; 738.6; 149.1; 6.2
Christophe Bullens: 5,064.8; 2,443.8; 110.2; 4.6