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WET AND WILD START FOR VELUX 5 OCEANS SPRINT THREE

IT was a wild, wet and windy start to the third sprint of the VELUX 5 OCEANS solo round the world yacht race today as the four ocean racers blasted out of Wellington Harbour. Grey, drizzly conditions with strong 25 to 30 knot winds greeted the skippers as they set sail on the sprint to Punta del Este Uruguay, the third of five legs that make up The Ultimate Solo Challenge.

Despite the weather, hundreds of people flocked to Queens Wharf in central Wellington to watch the emotional departure ceremony before thousands lined the city’s waterfront for the race start which took place just a few hundred metres from the shore.

As the starting gun fired at 2.30pm local time (0130 UTC) it was American skipper Brad Van Liew, the overall race leader, who was first across the line on Le Pingouin and out towards the first turning mark laid inside the harbour, two nautical miles from the start. But it was Polish ocean racer Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski on Operon Racing who stole a march on the fleet rounding the turning mark first.

After a dramatic run-up to the start, where he had to fix an oil leak onboard Active House, Canadian Derek Hatfield crossed the start line in third place but overtook Brad Van Liew on the way to the first mark. By the time the racers headed out through Barrett Reef and Pencarrow Head and into the Cook Strait, winds had reached 50 knots. By that point Brad and Derek were already locked in battle, at times just a few boatlengths separating the pair. British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major started the race in fourth after problems with the genoa on Spartan meant he could only put up a storm jib.

The 6,000 nautical mile sprint from Wellington to Punta del Este in Uruguay will see the fleet head deeper into the Southern Ocean than they have been yet as they dip down to the latitude 56 degrees south to get round Cape Horn, the southerly tip of South America. Along the way the skippers will face waves that could reach up to 25 metres tall and winds that will consistently blow between 25 and 40 knots - and often more.

They will also pass Point Nemo, the most remote spot in the world, more than 2,000 nautical miles from land in every direction. After surviving all the Southern Ocean can throw at them they must round Cape Horn, one of the most dangerous bodies of water in the world, where millions of tonnes of water are forced through a 400-mile wide gap between the South American continent and Antarctica.