Saturday, 23 October 2010

Velux 5 Oceans: Brad van Liew's Le Pingouin Knocked Flat in First Race Scare

Le Pingouin - Brad van Liew. Image copyright onEdition.

by Sarah Hames

AMERICAN ocean racer Brad Van Liew had his first scare of the VELUX 5 OCEANS just days into the first ocean sprint when his yacht Le Pingouin was knocked flat in the Atlantic.

Brad had been resting in his bunk with Le Pingouin travelling at 20 knots when the power to his autopilot, the device that steers the boat, failed, forcing the boat to crash gybe – an involuntary movement when the wind changes direction suddenly forcing the boat’s sails to move violently onto the other side of the boat. Le Pingouin was knocked 90 degrees onto her side, her sails flat to the water and Brad was thrown from his bunk.

The 42-year-old, along with Polish ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski and Canadian Derek Hatfied, opted to sail west towards the Azores in search of more wind – and they found it in abundance, with some gusts hitting 45 knots. When his boat was knocked flat Brad, a very experienced solo sailor who has been round the world singlehanded twice before, immediately feared the worst, reaching for Le Pingouin’s liferaft in case her keel had fallen off.

“I had just crawled into my bunk for a much deserved and long awaited nap,” he explained. “I was just dozing off when the autopilot shut off due to a lack of power. The boat crashed into a gybe. I was sleeping on the high side and when you crash gybe you end up on the low side. A few things got tossed round the cabin. The boat laid so flat in the water that my first reaction was to reach for the liferaft – I thought the keel had fallen off and we were rolling over. I didn’t know how serious it was but it was so violent, the way it crashed and laid flat. It didn’t seem like it should be that violent.

“My initial thought before I went on deck was that something really serious had happened. Then it stopped and the boat didn’t roll over and I realised it wasn’t that the keel had gone. By the time I got on deck and was alert enough to look at what was going on I realised the boat had crash-gybed, but I didn’t know why. Turns out it was just a mismanagement of power on the boat and it caused a low voltage situation – that was the culprit. I can’t blame anyone else but myself!

“My approach to these things is to just take time t think about the situation, don’t just go running into it. I assessed the situation for about 30 seconds before I did anything, and we were laid flat for about five minutes in total. The good news is the boat appears to be ok, and I’m ok.”

Race leader Gutek was also caught out last night, this time by a freak gust of 45 knots hitting Operon Racing as she ploughed through 7-8-metre seas at 22 knots.

“I had a lot work with sail changes, and after all I decided to put up a little spinnaker,” he said. “And suddenly it came: a burst of 45 knots, huge waves - the boat started to fly. I just asked myself how to get this sail down? Boat speed was a steady 22 knots, like driving F1 on a big highway full speed waiting for something to go wrong… So I said to myself – Ok, let’s try to get it down, otherwise it will fly away or I will have to cut it out down. What else could I do? Thankfully I finally I managed it.”

Meanwhile ocean racer Derek Hatfield has been reeling in the VELUX 5 OCEANS front runners after putting in the best performance of the last 24 hours. After a frustrating start for the 57-year-old which saw him struggle to get his Eco 60 yacht Active House into a groove, Derek has been clawing back places sailing the furthest out of any of the skippers in the 24 hours from 12pm UTC yesterday.

Active House averaged nine knots and sailed a total of 216.8 nautical miles over that 24 hour period, reducing the distance between Derek and Gutek by 27 nautical miles to just 75.3 nautical miles. Polish solo sailor Gutek sailed 189.5 nautical miles during the time period while Briton Chris Stanmore-Major, stuck in light airs off the coast of Spain, managed just 67.8 nautical miles.

CSM, skipper of Spartan, chose to hug the Spanish coast taking a more direct route to Cape Town. The move seemed to pay off when hecut inside the fleet and jumped three places into second position. While the others went west searching for wind, CSM chose to stay put. Two days of high pressure and little wind has cost him two places and he has slipped to fourth place.

“I managed to drag myself out of it yesterday and got some reasonable breeze,” he said. “I had some decent speeds out of the boat and was making my way south on the course that I wanted, about 220 degrees, and then about 4am this morning the wind just completely disappeared. Now there’s no wind at all. As I read it now on the dial there is 0.5 of a knot of wind. The boat is just struggling forward at 0.2 knots. I’ve got the boat healed over using the canting keel so the sails take on some kind of shape but as I speak the sails are flapping uselessly and my flags are hanging straight down. We are going absolutely nowhere.”

Despite his lack of progress, the latest position report placed CSM just 225 miles behind Gutek. The 33-year-old was remaining positive about his position while awaiting the forecasted breeze to fill in.

“I’ve been in this situation before and it is frustrating but it’s also an opportunity to jobs on the boat which require a level deck,” he said. “If you started to get too worried about it and started to count the miles the other guys are dragging away from me it would be very worrying. The other guys took a massive detour off that route to get the good breeze and all credit to them, they have done a really good job of it. But when the breeze starts to fill back in in the next 12 hours it will come in the same for all of us and I am on that inside line, the straightest possible route. I’m hoping I can drag some of the miles back. We shall see, but it’s not all over yet, we’re only a few hundred miles into it and there’s still a long way to go.”

Christophe Bullens had hoped to set sail from La Rochelle at 5pm afternoon but decided to delay his departure by 12 hours to finish some work to the electronics onboard Five Oceans of Smiles too. He has more than 900 miles to catch up if he is to overtake Gutek – but with ocean racing, anything can happen!