The countdown is on to the start of the fourth ocean sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS solo round the world race. With less than a week to go until the 5,700-mile sprint to Charleston in the US, excitement and tension is starting to mount in the Uruguayan port of Punta del Este.
At 16:00 UTC on Sunday the VELUX 5 OCEANS' four solo skippers will blast out of Punta del Este Bay for the penultimate sprint of the 30,000-mile race. After an incredibly close sprint three, which saw Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski beat Chris Stanmore-Major by just 40 seconds and all four boats finish within 48 hours of each other, the pressure is now on for sprint four.
After spending the past two ocean sprints tackling the ferocious downwind sailing of the Southern Ocean, the skippers will have to adopt a more tactical approach for the lighter, upwind weather conditions which they now face as they head north through the Atlantic Ocean to the east coast port of Charleston in South Carolina.
For Charleston resident Brad Van Liew, overall race leader and winner of all three sprints, the leg holds special meaning. "I have a lot of incentives to get to Charleston first,"
the skipper of Le Pingouin
said. "My kids are there, my family is there and my home is there. The sooner I get there the longer I get to spend at home. Mentally that is a bit of a liability, and it will be important for me to keep my head straight and not get too excited about sailing home.
"This is one of those legs where if tactically you make a bad decision it could mean you end up being left behind. Equally if you call a good move at the head of the fleet you could break away from the others. We've got a really competitive fleet so it's going to be tough. We're going to be heading back into chess match mode rather than scrum mode."
After developing keel problems onboard Operon Racing
Gutek and his team have carried out a series of repairs since arriving in Punta del Este. Due to the lack of professional boat yards in Uruguay, the team has taken the decision to complete the work once in Charleston. After consulting experts including Operon Racing's
designer and the builders of the keel, it was agreed that the boat is safe to take on the next ocean sprint.
"It's a long leg so anything can happen. Getting it right with the weather is going to be key,"
the Pole said. "If one of the other skippers makes a mistake I will use it as a good opportunity to pass them."
Buoyed by his impressive performance in ocean sprint three, Britain's Chris Stanmore-Major is eyeing up another podium in sprint four. "Spartan is good for the fight and I'm keen to get back on the water,"
"The target for this leg is to come 40 seconds ahead of Gutek. I'm aware that the best legs for my boat were the Southern Ocean legs but we've stripped off as much weight as possible for sprint four. She's as light as she can be and I have learnt how to sail her in light airs - hopefully that will prove to be a good combination."
After slipping from second place to fourth in the dying stages of ocean sprint three when his wind instruments died, Canadian Derek Hatfield has vowed to regain the podium positions he won during the first two ocean sprints. Also fixed is the engine oil leak that caused so many problems for the veteran racer in the last sprint.
"The big problem for me was the oil leak in the engine which we sorted in the first week of being here in Punta del Este,"
he said. "It wasn't a huge fix but was just one that had to be done on shore. It's all fixed now so I will be back up to full speed, pushing hard.
"I know the waters of the North Atlantic very well which will be a real strength. I was disappointed with my performance in the last leg so now I'm going to step it up again. In the last sprint the wheels fell off for me in the last 48 hours. Gutek and Chris managed to both get away from me. I'm really going to go after this one and notch it back up again to the podium."
Ocean sprint four starts at 16:00 UTC on Sunday March 27.