Velux 5 Oceans racer narrowly avoids disaster

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Velux 5 Oceans skipper Chris Stanmore-Major feared that his yacht was sinking Sunday after finding the cabin flooded with water in the middle of the North Atlantic.

The 33-year-old, competing in the 30,000-mile round-the-world yacht race known as The Ultimate Solo Challenge, discovered the potential disaster halfway into the final sprint of the event from Charleston, S.C., to La Rochelle, France.

Stanmore-Major had been locked in battle with fellow racers Derek Hatfield and Zbigniew “Gutek” Gutkowski about 1,000 miles east of the Canadian province of Newfoundland when the drama unfolded. His yacht, Spartan, had been travelling about 18 knots in strong winds when he returned to the cabin after a sail change to find it flooded.

“My immediate thought was that something had breached the hull,” Stanmore-Major told the Velux 5 Oceans team. “I have literally never seen that much water inside a boat before. I informed race control that I thought I was dealing with a hull breach. I started to pump out the water, then carried out a full check of the boat and found there was only one place the water was coming into the cabin, and that was by the rear bulkhead.”

It was a huge shock for the Spartan skipper, an experienced yachtsman but a newcomer to solo sailing. “When it happened it was like that feeling when you know you are going over the handlebars of your bike and everything goes out of your control,” he said. “It’s that kind of trapdoor feeling where you think, ‘OK, this is serious.’ I have enough experience of these situations to know the difference between having a bit of water inside the boat and actually thinking I am sinking.

“As the water levels started to go down I could see better what was going on. I found there was a three-foot crack in the hull by the bulkhead. Thankfully, there was no hole in the hull — the water had flooded in from the back compartment of the boat, which had been full of water to weigh the back of the boat down.”

Eventually all of the water was pumped out of the cabin, but the flooding had soaked the contents of Spartan, including Stanmore-Major’s computer and all of his clothing. It also accidentally triggered his EPIRB, which sent out a distress signal to rescue services.

Race control was then contacted by Falmouth Coastguard, and Hatfield and Gutkowski were diverted to Stanmore-Major’s position. When it became clear that Stanmore-Major’s situation was not critical they returned to racing mode. Both skippers will be afforded redress by the race committee for their part in the incident.

“It is a reminder that we have been out here for a long time now and I need to be very, very careful with my boat,” Stanmore-Major said. “Not only is it a piece of sporting equipment, it is also my survival cell if something goes wrong. The speed gate is coming up and we’re still fully functional, so we will give it the best shot we can. We’re still in the race, and we will try to give the other guys hell before we get to the finish.”

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