Photos: Ainhoa Sanchez/Velex 5 Oceans

Leg four sets sail

Velux 5 Oceans foursome depart Punta del Este

Sunday March 27th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: Uruguay

Poland's Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski took an early lead over his race rivals as leg four of the Velux 5 Oceans got underway from Punta del Este today. The 36-year-old former national dinghy champion snuck across the start line in Operon Racing five seconds in front of fellow competitor and overall race leader Brad Van Liew on Le Pingouin.

In one of the closest starts of the round the world race so far, all four boats blasted across the line in Punta del Este bay within a few minutes of each other. Gutkowski laid down his intentions for the race ahead rounding the first mark ahead of the fleet but close behind were Le Pingouin, Derek Hatfield’s Active House and Chris Stanmore-Major’s Spartan.

With the sun beating down and a SSEerly breeze of around 10 knots, conditions were near perfect for the start of the penultimate leg which will take the solo sailors 5,700 nautical miles to Charleston, South Carolina. Spectators lined the breakwater in Marina Punta del Este to bid farewell to the skippers from the Uruguayan resort, the fourth time Punta del Este has hosted the race.

Completely different to the past two Southern Ocean legs, the passage north up the Atlantic will see tactics become more important than ever as the skippers tackle the St Helena High before facing the Doldrums for the second time since the race started in La Rochelle back in October. Once across the Equator the fleet will then pick up the northeasterly tradewinds allowing the skippers to take a relatively direct course towards Charleston.

A new addition for four leg is the option to use ‘stealth mode’, enabling each skipper’s position to be hidden from their rival racers and the public for 24 hours. Skippers will be allowed to enter stealth mode twice during the leg, but not in the first 48 hours of racing or within 500 nautical miles from the finish line.

Prior to leaving the skippers commented:

Brad Van Liew: "I wouldn’t say I’m nervous, more anxious. I’m really excited to be getting going on the leg to Charleston. I’ve had a really good couple of days of relaxation just tidying up the boat and working with my guys. I feel really ready and the boat is really ready. Mentally I am in the groove.

"I really enjoy the north-south legs in the Atlantic. They’re a really good tactical challenge and I enjoy that. It’s nice to not have icebergs and 70-knot winds on the brain. Hopefully we won’t have any severe tropical weather during the leg. It takes a bit of stress off to be back in the Atlantic.

"It will be interesting to see how everyone settles into this leg. It is so different from the last one. The other skippers have been concentrating so hard on improving their speed, and we can see from the results that it really is turning into one hell of a good boat race. I know everyone is excited to get going again.

"The friendships we have made during this race are very real but on the water we are rivals. This part of the race becomes very interesting in terms of rivalry!"

Derek Hatfield: "There is always a bit of apprehension about the start of a leg. You want to get away cleanly without any incidents. We haven’t been sailing in a month now so there is always a bit of pre-start jitters! I’m really looking forward to getting back to sea, turning the corner and getting going. I’m looking forward to seeing my family in Charleston too, it feels like I’m sailing home.

Zbigniew Gutkowski: "There are four different weather systems for us to navigate on this next leg. We have to make sure we make the best strategy for the next couple of days and read the weather forecasts well. This is the key to keeping the other guys really close. Maybe Brad will have to win this one because he has promised me he will be waiting on the jetty with a ‘welcome Gutek’ flag and a beer. But if I can, I will pass him and I will be the one welcoming Brad home from the jetty!"

Chris Stanmore-Major:  "Last night there were definitely some nerves and emotions but I dealt with that by coming down to the boat, spending the night here and going through the processes just as I would at sea. That really gets my mind fixed. Once we’re on the boats it’s a closed world so I have just been enjoying taking my time walking around Punta and soaking up all the little details. That way when I get to my boat I will be totally focussed on the job in hand. I feel very relaxed and ready for the start."

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