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CSM fears sinking as Sparten floods in Velux 5 Oceans leg 5

by Velux 5 Oceans media 23 May 2011 14:12 BST

Velux 5 Oceans skipper Chris Stanmore-Major feared his yacht was sinking after finding the cabin flooded with hundreds of litres of 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, USA, to La Rochelle in France.

CSM had been locked in battle with fellow racers Derek Hatfield and Zbigniew ‘Gutek’ Gutkowski around 1,000 miles east of the Canadian province of Newfoundland when the drama unfolded. His yacht Spartan had been travelling at around 18 knots in strong winds when he returned to the cabin following a sail change to find it flooded.

“My immediate thought was that something had breached the hull,” CSM 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,” CSM 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 3ft 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 the water was pumped out of the cabin but the flooding had completely soaked the contents of Spartan including CSM’s computer and all his clothing. It also accidentally triggered his emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) which sent out a distress signal to rescue services.

Race control were then contacted by Falmouth Coastguard, and Derek and Gutek were diverted to CSM’s position. When it became clear CSM’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 reminder that we have been out here for a long time now and I need to be very very careful with my boat,” CSM 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.”

Positions at 0600 UTC:
Skipper / distance to finish (nm) / distance to leader (nm) / distance covered in last 24 hours (nm) / average speed in last 24 hours (kts)

Brad Van Liew, Le Pingouin: 1521.5 / 0 / 201.3 / 8.4
Derek Hatfield, Active House: 1601.3 / 79.8 / 199.3 / 8.3
Zbigniew Gutkowski, Operon Racing: 1604.2 / 82.7 / 236.4 / 9.9
Chris Stanmore-Major, Spartan: 1606.2 / 84.7/ 206.8/ 8.6

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