Brad Van Liew Relishes 'Top Gun' Dogfight With 'Maverick' Gutek
Leading pair head west in search of breeze
"You know in the movie Top Gun when Tom Cruise's character Maverick goes to Top Gun and dog fights with the old, salty war proven pilot Viper?"
American yachtsman Brad Van Liew has taken to using film comparisons to describe his tussle with Polish solo sailor Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski at the head of the VELUX 5 OCEANS fleet. "Viper's trying to take Maverick out nice and easy but Maverick won't let go, and Viper thinks 'damn this kid is good'. That's kinda the way I feel about Gutek. I'm like 'where the hell did he come from?' It's awesome. I didn't come here to mess around so if he wants a boat race let's get it on."
It's day four of the VELUX 5 OCEANS and with 700 of 7,000 nautical miles sailed the competition is heating up. Gutek led the fleet over the start line on Sunday but was caught shortly after by Brad. For just under three days the 42-year-old was out in front in his Eco 60 yacht Le Pingouin as the fleet pushed their way out of the notorious Bay of Biscay, but Gutek, a former champion dinghy sailor, has pushed his boat Operon Racing hard and stole an overnight lead of nine nautical miles. Both skippers have opted to head west away from land in search of breeze. Derek Hatfield and Chris Stanmore-Major have both been slowed by lighter breezes, allowing the leading pair to make more ground.
It's a battle that Brad Van Liew, back in a singlehanded ocean yacht race for the first time in eight years, is relishing. This morning he was blasting along at 15 knots in 19 knots of breeze in perfect sailing conditions headed for the Azores off the coast of Portugal. "I've made three sail changes in the last 24 hours just to make sure I don't let Gutek out of my sight," he said. "It's been a really rough 36 hours because I waited so late to commit to the right. I knew it was going to be a lot of work. I'm hauling ass now though. Gutek's got me by a few miles at the moment but I'm pretty comfortable with where I'm at because no-one was able to get away from me completely."
Meanwhile Gutek has been pushing Operon Racing, the oldest boat in the fleet, hard into the centre of a low pressure system which promises to bring up to 40 knots of wind. Gutek's aggressive tactics have paid off but have not been without consequence. The 36-year-old from Gdansk had to climb the mast yesterday to fix a broken spinnaker halyard, a task which took more than two hours. "The wind was some 20 knots, not a lot, so up I went," he said. "The boat was sailing with a full main and a spinnaker. Suddenly she went up to the wind, heeled some 50 degrees. Fortunately the self-steering gear didn't switch off. I was feeling like a rodeo rider for at least minutes - I had some really hard moments on the top of the mast."
Canadian Derek Hatfield was 100 nautical miles behind Gutek at the last position report, on the same route as the Pole. The 57-year-old's speed has been hampered by light airs over the past few days and he has been experimenting with sail combinations trying to find the optimum set up for his Eco 60 yacht Active House. "I don't have the boat totally sorted for speed," he said. "The boat has great potential but I just haven't found it yet. These downwind conditions are not ideal for this boat because it's a little bit underpowered. I'm finding it a bit of a struggle to get downwind using the Code Zero and the spinnaker but there's just not enough wind right now. I haven't had a lot of downwind experience in this boat but I'm starting to get it on now and finally come up to speed."
After a tough few days, Derek, who completed the VELUX 5 OCEANS in 2003 when it was known as the Around Alone, is finally getting into a rhythm. "Yesterday was the first day that it started to feel comfortable, and today it's even more so," he said."It takes a while because you go through that process of being on land and you're pushing to get the boat ready and you push right through to the start line. Once you start it's kind of a huge adrenaline let down. It's a huge physical transition."
Belgian ocean racer Christophe Bullens will leave La Rochelle tomorrow afternoon after finishing his final preparations to new yacht Five Oceans of Smiles too. Christophe already sailed a 48-hour qualification passage in the yacht, a replacement for his original boat Five Oceans of Smiles which dismasted on the way to La Rochelle two weeks before the race start.
"Gutek is attacking, he's very aggressive and that's good," Christophe said, eying up his competition. "It is great for the race. We will have to see what Gutek does to hold on to the lead. Although Derek is a bit behind he is in a good position. He's not pushing too hard and that could be better in the long run."
One thing is for sure – with more than 6,000 nautical miles to go to Cape Town and the feared Doldrums to pass, the VELUX 5 OCEANS race is only just beginning.
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.
Please visit www.velux5oceans.com