The Polish sailor has struggled with autopilot leading to several unexpected and dangerous high-speed gybes

36-year-old Polish solo sailor Zbigniew Gutkowski has struggled with the yacht’s self steering equipment since problems developed early into the second ocean sprint of the singlehanded round the world race.

The faults have led to several unexpected and dangerous high-speed gybes which have in turn resulted in Operon Racing being knocked flat – the last thing a skipper wants to happen while trying to survive the Southern Ocean.

“Since Christmas Eve I have had a very serious problems with my self-steering gear and I can’t fix it,” Gutek explained. “It just does its own thing whenever it wants. On the night of December 24th when I was sailing at full speed my boat made an unexpected gybe. As a result I found myself lying down in the middle of Southern Ocean with my sails glued to the water. The canting keel was in a maximum heel position for the tack I was sailing, so after a gybe it was working other way. In quite a short time I managed to change its position, as well as the position of backstays and sails, all of that while heeled over at 80 degrees. The boat finally returned to its proper position. It’s a miracle I got out of this mess without any harm.”

Solo skippers rely on autopilots, allowing them time to tend to crucial jobs onboard. It is vital that they can put their utmost trust in them.

Before the problems onboard Operon Racing emerged, Gutek had been leading the fleet towards the finish line in Wellington after stealing the top spot from American skipper Brad Van Liew. However Gutek has since been overtaken by Brad at the midnight UTC trailed him by 113 nautical miles. He has also been passed by Canadian rival Derek Hatfield as he struggles to keep Operon Racing competitive.

Consequently, Gutek’s confidence has also been knocked. “It happened a few days ago now but I still have no cure for this disease. I have lost all my confidence in the self-steering gear and for a first time I am anxious about my own life. I keep trying to sort this problem out, but I am really exhausted.”

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