Velux 5 Oceans skipper Brad Van Liew battles storm in North Atlantic

Le Pingouin - Velux 5 Oceans 2010-11
Ainhoa Sanchez/Velux 5 Oceans
Velux 5 Oceans 2010-11 final sprint end is in sight for skipper Brad Van Liew as he predicts a Friday finish for the ultimate solo challenge.

The challenge is far from over yet for the American ocean racer who has spent the last 24 hours battling a fierce North Atlantic storm.

The 43-year-old is not only at the top of the leaderboard after a clean sweep of the previous four ocean sprints but has also led the charge across the North Atlantic from his hometown of Charleston in South Carolina to La Rochelle in France, the place the race started from more than eight months ago.

At yesterday’s 1800 UTC position report – the last schedule where all four boats were polled – Brad had a lead of just over 60 miles on his race rivals. Choosing to seek out stronger winds to up his speeds towards La Rochelle Brad sailed his Eco 60 Le Pingouin close to the eye of a depression. He was rewarded with boat speeds hitting more than 25 knots – but also paid the price for the move encountering howling 47-knot winds and crashing seas.

'This low pressure area I’m in is quite a barn-burner,' Brad reported this morning. 'I’ve had up to 47 knots this morning with lots of squalls. The seas have got really gnarly too – not huge but really short and steep. Right now I’m just trying to take care of the boat – I’ve got three reefs in the main and no jib at all. I wanted to stay north to get the stronger breeze but it has got pretty serious.

'I should probably have a storm job up but I don’t think I’m going to have these winds for too much longer, plus I’m sailing pretty deep downwind. Everything is under control and I have made some really good miles over the last few position reports. I’m just trying to keep my promise to Le Pingouin to push hard and do well but not break anything and get her there in one piece.'

With the storm set to ease and the wind direction due to back in the next 12 hours, Brad only has to hang on a little while longer to escape what will probably be his last big storm of the Velux 5 Oceans. More than 30,000 miles of gruelling ocean racing has taken its toll, and the American has his sights firmly set on stepping onto terra firma in La Rochelle as quickly as possible.

'This really is the last big weather moment of this race for me and LP,' Brad said. 'The wind is going to start backing soon and I will gybe in about six hours and then start playing northerlies all the way to La Rochelle. At the moment I’m going to be in La Rochelle by midday on the 27th May in a nice mellow north-north easterly breeze. That’s the plan at the moment. I’m ready for a break, I’m pretty burnt out. This race has been a fantastic event and the boat has been really special but now I’m tired!'

Despite entering the speed gate yesterday Brad insisted his main priority is keeping his boat in one piece. 'The speed gate for me doesn’t matter too much, there is no reason for me to focus on it now,' he added. 'I’m not going to push so hard that I risk doing damage to my boat.'

The speed gate is however a major importance to duelling skippers Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkoswki and Derek Hatfield, both currently in 24-hour stealth mode. Locked in battle and tied on points for second place, both will reappear on the racetrack at tonight’s 0000 UTC position report.

Positions at 1200 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: 1082.8 / 0 / 369.1 / 15.4
Zbigniew Gutkowski, Operon Racing: Stealth Mode
Derek Hatfield, Active House: Stealth Mode
Chris Stanmore-Major, Spartan: 1194.6 / 111.8 / 331.7 / 13.8

Velux 5 Oceans website