The third ocean sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS came to the most incredibly thrilling climax yesterday with Polish ocean racer Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski beating British rival Chris Stanmore-Major to second place by just 40 seconds.
It is the closest ever finish in solo ocean racing history.
After nearly four weeks at sea and more than 6,700 miles of racing through the Southern Ocean and the South Atlantic from New Zealand to Uruguay, the fight for second place came down to a nail-biting drag race to the finish line.
As a flotilla of boats took to the waters off Punta del Este to witness the finale and welcome in the skippers they were greeted by two unmistakable shapes on the horizon - Operon Racing
neck and neck, separated by less than a mile. With around a mile to the finish line it was Stanmore-Major who had the slight advantage but after taking a course too close to the shore he was forced to gybe twice to lay the line, allowing Gutek to capitalise.
In an amazing photo finish it was Gutek who emerged the victor, sneaking in front of Stanmore-Major right at the last moment to clinch second place by less than a minute. Gutek crossed the finish line at 16:40 local time (18:40 UTC) after 25 days, 17 hours and ten minutes. Forty seconds later, Stanmore-Major crossed.
And in an exhilarating conclusion to the leg, Canadian Derek Hatfield blasted across the line just over an hour later after 25 days, 18 hours and 22 minutes. Following Brad Van Liew's win on Tuesday afternoon, all four boats arrived in just over 48 hours of each other.
"It was a fight to the end and I won,"
Gutek said after stepping on to the dockside to rapturous applause from the waiting crowds. "This second place is the best of all of them, much better than in Wellington and Cape Town. I am really proud."
Moments later it was Stanmore-Major's turn to join his fellow skippers on dry land. "This sprint has proven I have a fast boat and I have taken the handbrake off now and I think we have a good chance for the next leg,"
he said. "We have lost out on second place and that's a great pity, I wish we were parked one boat closer to Brad, but I think we have made our point - we know what we're doing now and we can go fast."
"Never in a 6,000-mile leg have I seen a finish this close,"
Derek added. "It was incredible. All I can say is wow, what a race. It was so close, I loved it."
Ocean sprint three has by no means been easy going for any of the VELUX 5 OCEANS skippers. In the middle of the Southern Ocean, thousands of miles from anywhere, Stanmore-Major's mainsail ripped and he was forced to spend 30 hours stitching it in horrendous weather conditions. He also had to contend with rips in one of his foresails as well as a major water leak onboard Spartan.
Gutek faced a nervous rounding of the mighty Cape Horn when keel problems developed onboard Operon Racing. After a composite part on the yacht's keel pins broke, the keel started to move several millimetres, making a dull knocking sound. Gutek was forced to fully cant the keel for the remainder of the race, affecting his performance.
Onboard Active House Derek was dealing with an engine oil leak which meant he could only charge his batteries when on port tack. After holding on to second place until just two days from Punta del Este, it was low power to his wind instruments that was Derek's eventual downfall.
"The results of this leg really bode well for the future of the Eco 60 class,"
Derek concluded. "Here we have recycled older boats that are so competitive and level - it makes for great racing."
Ocean sprint four will see the fleet sprint 5,800 nautical miles to Charleston, starting on 27 March.