The third leg of the Velux 5 Oceans race boasts the closest finish in solo racing history, with only 40 seconds separating the second and third place finishers. Zbigniew Gutkowski and Chris Stanmore-Major had been within eyesight of each other for much of the 3,500 nautical mile leg, but it was within the last 20 nautical miles that the race became tight.
Stanmore-Major took the time to address the finish in a blog post on the Velux 5 Oceans website. He writes:
With approximately 20Nm to go the breeze finally veered and we could lay Punta with cracked sheets on a fine reach. I put my hand on Spartan's cabin top and whispered to her - 'it’s now or never girl'. I saw Gutek ease his mainsail and come down a few degrees and I tapped the autopilot down 5 and released the main a foot, the speedo picked up a few tenths but nothing worth writing home about. I then stepped forward to the Solent winch and cracked it off - the rig bounced and shook the hull as the sheet pressure of going upwind all morning was finally released. As soon as the sail's tell tales rotated down into the correct horizontal attitude, I could feel the hull lift and surge forward and I knew I could catch Operon. For 3500Nm of blue white Southern Ocean I have been listening and learning to sit Spartan in this exact groove- it is the setting that reels in the boats in this fleet like fish on a line. Now two hours out from the finish Gutek had placed himself in my sights and I was squeezing the trigger. 13, 13.5kts, 13.9, 14.0kts and now I can read the writing on Gutek's sails and now I can see what he is wearing.
The feeling of the deck trembling beneath my feet, the sun beating down on me and the sight of such a fantastic competitor getting closer and closer unable to respond was an inspiring moment in my sailing career- one I will treasure. But Gutek was having none of it and I could see him dashing around his deck preparing something-then just as my bow began to overlap his stern he unfurled his gennaker and Operon pulled away. I dropped a few more degrees to increase my speed and stay with him and dragged the Code 5 headsail from the side deck forward and threw it aloft faster than I have ever managed before. I sprinted to the cockpit and hauled on the sheet deploying the sail in a cloud of white dacron. I winched in like a man possessed and only five minutes after Operon began to move forward Spartan was back in pursuit and closing. We were only 10Nm from the coast now and I could see the clouds hanging over the land, in fifteen minutes I could see the land and crucially the lighthouse that marked the finish. Had I not been so tired from 40hrs close racing, had I perhaps had more to drink that blistering morning I might have taken what?- two minutes to go below and triple check the lay out of the finish. If I had I would perhaps have been 2nd rather than 3rd in the closest finish of solo sailing history- had I altered my course by only a few degrees at that point I would have easily laid the finish.
Instead I kept my eyes glued on Gutek. As a previous 470 and 49er champion I am happy to concede that in a close quarters situation he can out probably out maneuver me and I kept focused on keeping my boat between him and the line. And right there not that I knew it I lost the race.
For the full report, click here.