Bernard Stamm leads Kojiro Shiraishi in the Velux 5 Oceans Race 25/10/06

At 0532 GMT this morning, Velux 5 Oceans race leader, Bernard Stamm and Open 60 Cheminées Poujoulat were stretching into the North Atlantic, 210 miles off the coast of Portugal.

As the race fleet was lashed by gale force winds on Monday and Tuesday, Stamm was unaware of the carnage in his wake. During a brief satellite phone call with his team, the Swiss skipper described conditions in the Bay of Biscay: “It has been quite a brutal situation, especially as we had only just come out of the skipper’s briefing, really, and not from a two weeks sailing. I have some really small damage, but nothing serious. I wonder for the other boats, but I would think they also had some damage.”

When told of the status of Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss), Mike Golding (Ecover), Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (SAGA Insurance) and the Spanish skipper, Unai Basurko (Pakea), Stamm was astonished: “I was quite unhappy with the way I was doing on the race course. I was being so careful that I had the feeling I was more sailing than racing. So, to discover that I am leading is a really good surprise. It is a really sad to hear that the others had to stop but, anyway, I am not going to wait for them!”
Cheminées Poujoulat had kept inshore, remaining on the European continental shelf as Stamm battled around the north-west tip of Spain towards Cape Finisterre. This fundamental decision was crucial and Stamm is genuinely surprised that some skippers chose to leave the coast: ” It must have been terrible! I don’t really understand why they went offshore, as when I was 18 miles away from the coast, it was already a nightmare. White sea and 10 m waves hitting the boat.”

However, the yacht furthest offshore during the gale is still chasing Stamm hard. Kojiro Shiraishi took Spirit of Yukoh 80 miles off Punta de la Estaca de Bares – the bulge in the coast just east of La Coruna – before tacking south-west towards Finisterre. Clinging to the chart table, the Japanese solo sailor, spent an exhausting night as the wind peaked at 72 knots, throwing the grab bags and his spare computer around the yacht’s cabin.

During the gale, the glass cover for the diesel fuel filter became dislodged by flying equipment, but – fortunately – did not shatter. On Tuesday morning at first light as the wind died down, Koji made a thorough check around the yacht and reported that everything was fine. At 0532 this morning the 39 year-old father of two was 140 miles behind Bernard Stamm, 145 miles west of Cape Finisterre.