The fleet spreads out as racers head towards their first timed run of the race

The Velux 5 Oceans fleet continues to spread out as the five ocean racers head towards the Equator and their first timed run of the race. At the front of the fleet Brad Van Liew and Zbigniew Gutkowski have been reaping the rewards for taking a more westerly route out into the Atlantic, increasing the gap between them and Derek Hatfield in third to some 300 nautical miles.

The leading pair have both been pushing their Eco 60 yachts equally hard as they approach the Doldrums. Brad suffered yet another knockdown yesterday brought about by a high-speed crash gybe, his third in seven days. After slicing open his forehead on the wind generator blade on Operon Racing two days ago, Gutek has been concentrating on reducing Brad’s lead, and at the last position report he was trailing by just 78 nautical miles.

“It looks like both Brad and I can go through quite quickly through the Doldrums,” Gutek said. “I can remember one crossing like that – even hard to notice that you are going through a ‘no-wind-zone’. I am counting on a weather change that could give me a chance. If a low pressure system appears behind Brad, I will go with it and take shorter way. But it could be also that Brad will go with it, and I will not be fast enough.”

As well as the dreaded Doldrums, the leaders are quickly approaching the first ‘timed run’ gate of the race. Between the latitudes 5N and 5S the skippers will be timed, and the fastest boat to sail through this section will be awarded bonus points. At midday UTC Brad was less than 150 miles to the first gate.

Another hoping to pick up points through the speed gates is Chris Stanmore-Major, the British solo sailor who earlier this week had a run of problems with his spinnaker which cost him miles on his opposition. CSM is hoping he can get through the gates quickly on Spartan to pick up bonus points and jump up the leaderboard.

The 33-year-old former Clipper Round the World Yacht Race skipper said: “I’m going to try to set myself up as best I can for a quick run between that 10 degree section that encompasses the Doldrums. I’m looking to get the best wind angle I can. I’ve got my weather information and I am now starting to work out where the Doldrums are and where the best place to cut through them is. But as anyone who has traversed this area knows, it’s a bit of a lottery. Choosing to put the speed gate in this area is a wise move by the race committee because it will mean we will have to show our skills as to how quickly we can get across.”

Despite experiencing lighter breezes today of around six knots, CSM is also hoping to pull back some miles on his nearest competitor Derek, around 340 nautical miles in front.

“I am trying to get myself off this west African coast and back towards a more normal line near the Cape Verde Islands and chase down Derek,” he said. “That in itself is going to be very difficult. Derek is a very experienced sailor, he’s got a great boat and he’s got a hefty lead on me. Derek is a distance away that I can realistically work on and in the past couple of days I have managed to get back at him even though I haven’t had a kite so I think it’s doable. It all depends on what happens once we go into the ITCZ (intertropical convergence zone) and how the fleet reshuffles.”

It’s been yet another frustratingly slow day for Belgian ocean racer Christophe Bullens who has been dogged by light winds off the coast of Portugal for several days. Christophe now trails Brad by nearly 2,000 nautical miles and is around 1,600 nautical miles behind fourth placed CSM.

Position Report from 12:00 UTC 28 October:

Skipper; distance to finish (nm); distance to leader (nm); distance covered in last 24 hours (nm); average speed in last 24 hours (kts)

Brad Van Liew: 3,909.7; 0; 248.3; 10.3

Gutek: 3,987.9; 78.2; 256.1; 10.7

Derek Hatfield: 4,233.1; 323.4; 239.1; 10

Chris Stanmore-Major: 4,572.6; 662.8; 164.2; 6.8

Christophe Bullens: 5,901.5; 1991.8; 125.3; 5.2

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