Velux 5 Oceans skipper Gutek finishes sprint four

Gutek reaches Charleston
Ainhoa Sanchez/Velux 5 Oceans
Velux 5 Oceans Polish solo sailor Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski has done it! After a gruelling 38-day sprint from Punta del Este in Uruguay to Charleston, USA, today Gutek has crossed the finish line of sprint four.

As the South Carolinian city slept, a small celebration was taking place out in the harbour as the Velux 5 Oceans race director’s horn sounded at 0120 local time (0520 UTC) marking the end of an epic sprint for Gutek and his Eco 60 yacht Operon Racing.

Just a few hours later, and over a month since starting the 5,700-nautical mile sprint with the rest of the Velux 5 Oceans fleet, the 36-year-old ocean racer docked at Seabreeze Marina, stepping off Operon Racing and onto dry land to rapturous applause from fellow competitors, friends and fans.

'I am very glad to finally be in Charleston,' Gutek said. 'Sprint four was a very long leg full of problems. Each leg has had its own challengesfor me and this one was no different. It feels very good to be here.'

Ocean sprint four was a huge hurdle for Gutek, who was dogged with problems onboard Operon Racing from early on in the leg. After setting sail from Punta del Este on March 27, Gutek was left with no choice but to turn round and head for Fortaleza, Brazil, when the forestay on Operon Racing broke.

At that stage he was already battling a broken alternator and a cracked bowsprit. Gutek was also suffering from broken ribs which he sustained in a nasty fall early on in the sprint. He was just eight miles across the Equator when he was forced to turn back to Fortaleza. Gutek spent 11 days in port during which he and his shore team carried out repairs to Operon Racing and allowed his broken ribs to heal. Ironically, Gutek had stopped in Fortaleza to make repairs on his first voyage around the world in The Race ten years ago.

After leaving Fortaleza, and his fellow racers practically uncatchable, Gutek promised to take things easy – but, ever the racer, he made quick progress across the Equator and through the North Atlantic, making the 3,300-mile journey from Brazil to Charleston in 13 days at an average of 10.3 knots. It seemed nothing could deter him – not even when his bowsprit broke again, this time parting from the bow completely.

Gutek and his team now have ten days to prepare Operon Racing for the finale of the Velux 5 Oceans, a 3,600-nautical mile blast through the North Atlantic to La Rochelle, France, where the race started eight months ago. It is set to be a thrilling finish to the race for Gutek, who will go into the leg tied in second place with Derek Hatfield.

'Fixing the bowsprit is the number one job now because there will be a lot of downwind sailing in sprint five,' Gutek added. 'I have a long list of things to do here but I will fight to the last drop of blood in the final sprint.'

Ocean sprint five starts from Charleston on May 14th.

Final statistics for ocean sprint four:
Brad Van Liew, Le Pingouin: Finished 19.04.11 in 23 days 4 hours and 58 minutes
Derek Hatfield, Active House: Finished 20.04.11 in 23 days 19 hours and 36 minutes
Chris Stanmore-Major, Spartan: Finished 21.04.11 in 25 days 9 hours and 45 minutes
Zbigniew Gutkowski, Operon Racing: Finished 05.05.11 in 38 days 13 hours and 20 minutes

Velux 5 Oceans website