Butler back on council

Tommy Butler

Ainhoa Sanchez/w-w-i.com

Velux 5 Oceans skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski (left) arrived at the Seabreeze Marina in the early morning hours of Thursday. He was greeted by fellow sailor Derek Hatfield and some race fans.

Velux 5 Oceans racer Zbigniew Gutkowski sailed into Charleston early Thursday, his boat and body battered -- but still as competitive as ever.

Gutkowski finished the leg from Punta del Este, Uruguay, to Charleston in 38 days after an 11-day layover in Brazil to fix his boat and allow a broken rib to heal.

It was a sea change for the skipper his fellow racers call Gutek. In the three previous legs he had taken second place behind local skipper Brad Van Liew.

But eight miles after crossing the equator he was forced to turn back to Fortaleza, Brazil, when the forestay on his yacht, Operon Racing, broke. Already he had problems with his alternator and a crack in his bowsprit.

Gutkowski made it clear Thursday that he didn't want to stop.

"The point of the stop was the broken forestay," he said. "I couldn't continue without fixing it. It wasn't my ribs."

Gutkowski had also taken a bad fall, and when he stopped in Brazil he discovered that he had broken one rib and cracked another.

Between the medical rest and boat repairs, he was taken out of contention for the leg.

The Polish skipper crossed the finish line outside Charleston Harbor at 1:20 a.m., and made it to the docks at Seabreeze Marina in the early-morning hours, where Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield and some race fans greeted him.

"I am very glad to finally be in Charleston," Gutkowski said. "Sprint four was a very long leg full of problems. Each leg has had its own challenges for me, and this one was no different. It feels very good to be here."

While Gutkowski was in port in Brazil, Van Liew won the leg, followed 15 hours later by Hatfield. British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major made port a day later.

Gutkowski and his team spent Thursday making plans for more repairs. He has little more than a week before the fleet sets out on May 14 for La Rochelle, France, and the Velux 5 Oceans finish line. Van Liew has an insurmountable points lead and only has to finish the race to win.

Meanwhile, Gutkowski and Hatfield are tied for second place, but Gutek said he will be ready for the challenge.

"Fixing the bowsprit is the Number 1 job now because there will be a lot of downwind sailing in sprint five," he said.

"I have a long list of things to do here, but I will fight to the last drop of blood in the final sprint."