Velux 5 Oceans Operon Racing skipper soon to test broken bowsprit

Velux 5 Oceans skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski onboard his yacht Operon Racing at the start of Ocean Sprint 4
Ainhoa Sanchez/Velux 5 Oceans
Velux 5 Oceans skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski, has had a tense couple of days onboard Operon Racing. The moment when he will need to hoist a sail onto his broken bowsprit draws closer.

Polish ocean racer 'Gutek' was forced to make a temporary repair to the bowsprit after it cracked under pressure during the first week of racing in ocean sprint four through the Atlantic from Punta del Este in Uruguay to Charleston in the USA.

The resourceful skipper managed to brace the bowsprit by lashing his two emergency tillers to it – but in the upwind conditions off the coast of Brazil he has not had the chance to test his repairs. However, soon Gutek will be past the north-east corner of South America and, once through the Doldrums, will be able to make the turn to the North West in the direction of Charleston. On this new angle to the wind Gutek will have to use the bowsprit to fly the bigger foresails on Operon Racing.

'I am not sure about my bowsprit repair,' Gutek admitted. 'I am thinking about it all the time as I will have some gennaker course soon. So I am thinking of some modifications. I think it should hold but I can't be sure about it. For sure, I will try to reinforce it, but the forces acting there are very strong. The most unbelievable bit is how it broke - it's just impossible. I have been sailing in a lot of similar boats and I saw bowsprits even smaller and thinner, and they all worked fine.'

The bowsprit was just the start of problems onboard Operon Racing, the oldest Eco 60 in the Velux 5 Oceans fleet, which have seen Gutek slip to fourth place in the fleet. Already sailing with keel problems sustained during ocean sprint three, Gutek has also been battling to fix a broken alternator as well as nursing bruised ribs after a nasty fall while reefing the mainsail last week. That said, in the six hours prior to the 0600 UTC position report Gutek was by far the fastest skipper averaging 10.7 knots, more than a knot faster than his competitors.

The entire fleet is now in the speed gates for ocean sprint four and all the skippers will be hoping to end Brad Van Liew’s 100 per cent record in setting the fastest speed run across the previous legs and claiming maximum bonus points. The gates are located between 5°S and 5°N, mirroring the speed gates during ocean sprint one from La Rochelle to Cape Town.

This morning Brad’s Le Pingouin re-emerged at the head of the fleet at 0600 UTC, 28 miles from the Equator after exiting stealth mode for the second time. Derek Hatfield’s Active House emerged briefly from stealth mode at 0600 but will disappear again at 1200 UTC after the Canadian skipper requested to use his second allotted stealth mode.

New for this leg, stealth mode adds a new aspect to the tactical navigation game as the fleet of Eco 60s race through the changeable weather conditions of the Atlantic. Each ocean racer can enter stealth mode twice during the leg, except once they are within 500 miles of Charleston.

Chris Stanmore-Major has this morning jumped into third position ahead of Gutek after taking a course closer to the coast of Brazil and therefore theoretically closer to the finish line.

Positions at 0600 UTC:
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, Le Pingouin: 3144.2/ 0 / 219.4 / 9.1
Derek Hatfield, Active House: 3263.3 / 119.1 / 177 / 7.4
Chris Stanmore-Major, Spartan: 3405.6 / 261.3 / 190.6 / 7.9
Zbigniew Gutkowski, Operon Racing: 3411.8 / 267.6 / 184.1 / 7.7

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