The last competitor crosses the finish line of the first ocean sprint after 50 days at sea

Tenacious solo sailor Christophe Bullens arrived in Cape Town this morning bringing to an end a gruelling six-week ocean sprint in the Velux 5 Oceans round the world yacht race. The 49-year-old was given a rapturous welcome as he sailed into the South African port 49 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes after the race start in La Rochelle, France, on 17 October.

He crossed the finish line at 14.55pm local time concluding an epic first leg which saw Christophe overcome several major setbacks including boat breakages and illness.

“It was a journey full of incidents but I am here now,” said Christophe. “I had a lot of problems so it took a little more time to arrive in Cape Town. The mainsail gave me lots of problems and that is the engine of the boat. I also had a lot of water entering the boat. My electronics are also not working. This is the most difficult solo sailing race I have ever done. We will now get the boat ready and safe in the time we have. I haven’t slept for three days but I am ok and ready to start work!”

As he arrived at the North Wharf a huge cheer went up from the crowds waiting on the pontoon to welcome Christophe to Cape Town. After an emotional reunion with his girlfriend Emilie he was greeted by fellow ocean racers Brad Van Liew, Derek Hatfield, Chris Stanmore-Major and Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski, their shore crews and the entire Velux 5 Oceans team.

Ocean sprint one was a rollercoaster for the Belgian – even before the start of the race he was forced to find a new Eco 60 yacht to race after his original yacht Five Oceans of Smiles was dismasted en route to the race start in La Rochelle.

With just days until the start Christophe bought the Eco 60 Artech and with his small team worked day and night to be on the start line in La Rochelle. After starting the race Christophe then sailed a 48-hour qualification passage on his new boat, renamed Five Oceans of Smiles too, before returning to La Rochelle to complete his preparations. He set sail again a week behind his competitors.

He was then forced to stop in the Canaries after his yacht was damaged in strong winds and then again in the Cape Verde Islands to make repairs and seek medical advice, further delaying his passage.

In the last week alone Christophe’s yacht took on around a tonne of water following problems with his generator. Days later he hit a whale and the last quarter of his passage has been sailed without a forestay, which broke off the coast of Brazil.

Even the final approach to Cape Town was frustrating for Christophe, who had to battle against the ‘Cape Doctor’, the notoriously strong summer south-easterly wind that blows down off Table Mountain. Blowing at more than 40 knots, it also whipped up a three-metre swell making the last ten nautical miles exasperating.

During the sprint Christophe sailed 8,138 nautical miles at an average of 6.79 knots, including stopovers. Scores from ocean sprint one, the first of five that make up the Velux 5 Oceans, will be announced on Friday.

Ocean sprint 1:

Brad Van Liew finished November 14, 28 days, 1 hour, 51 minutes
Gutek finished November 17, 31 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes
Derek Hatfield finished November 20, 33 days, 22 hours and 37 minutes
Chris Stanmore-Major finished 36 days, 0 hours and 44 minutes
Christophe Bullens finished 49 days, 22 hours and 55 minutes