Polish skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski has surprised many with his first solo ocean race

After exactly one month at sea, Polish ocean racer Zbigniew Gutkowski sailed into Cape Town last night to claim second place in the first ocean sprint of the Velux 5 Oceans. The 36-year-old (known as Gutek) crossed the finish line at 22:03 local time, 31 days, six hours and three minutes after leaving La Rochelle, France.

After a frustrating few days of light winds on the approach to Cape Town, Gutek completed the leg in fresh conditions, a south easterly breeze of between 20 and 25 knots powering him across the finish.

A former national champion dinghy racer, Gutek impressed right from the start of the solo round the world race, leading the fleet across the start line of this first stage and out into the Bay of Biscay. Despite problems with his Eco 60 yacht Operon Racing early on, Gutek kept pace with American rival Brad Van Liew, constantly challenging for first place right until the end of the 7,400-mile leg.

Gutek said: “I am so glad to be here. It was a really exciting race. All the time I was so close to Brad – beating him was my motivation. I found out one very important thing on this trip – I can sail solo. I had never done it before, and so before the start I didn’t know if I could do it or not. But now I am confident I can sail solo anywhere.”

His finish comes just three days behind Brad, who won the ocean sprint on Sunday evening. The feat is all the more impressive considering Gutek is a newcomer to solo sailing and, at 19-years-old, Operon Racing is the oldest boat in the Velux fleet and seven years older than Brad’s Le Pingouin. (Although she is by no means a slow boat, having been built by French sailing legend Alain Gautier who sailed her to victory in the 1992/3 Vendée Globe.)

Ocean sprint one was something of a baptism of fire for Gutek. Just days into the race Gutek had to climb the mast to repair a broken halyard. Then, just over a week in, he suffered deep cuts to his forehead after being hit by his wind generator. After shaving his hair off he then had to stitch up the wounds.

While chasing Brad through the South Atlantic another halyard broke and Gutek was forced to climb the mast once more, this time in strong winds and huge seas. Just moments after setting his gennaker following the repair the halyard snapped again and the sail was lost over the side of the boat. This all but ended his chances of catching Brad.

“I do feel a little bit upset because I lost out many times because of things breaking, mainly the sails,” Gutek explained. “When I lost the gennaker just before Cape Town I tried to find conditions that would suit sailing with no gennaker but I couldn’t find them. I lost three, four, maybe five days.”

Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield and British racer Chris Stanmore-Major are due to arrive in Cape Town over the weekend. For the latest ETAs go to www.velux5oceans.com.

12:00 UTC position report:
Skipper; distance to finish (nm); distance covered in last 24 hours (nm); average speed in last 24 hours (kts)

Brad Van Liew: finished Nov 14, 28 days, 1 hour, 51 mins
Gutek: finished Nov 17, 31 days, 6 hours, 3 mins
Derek Hatfield: 693; 176; 6.3
Chris Stanmore-Major: 943.9; 118.6; 4.9
Christophe Bullens: 3,578.2; 124.2; 5.2

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