One day, one skipper - Poland’s Zbigniew « Gutek »Gutkowski is the twentieth and last skipper to have joined the fleet of the 2012-2013 Vendée Globe. As the start of the race is coming closer, he shares his views on offshore racing and gives more details about his project, the ENERGA Sailing team, his preparation and his state of mind.
Where does your passion for sailing come from?
It comes from my childhood. And what I’m going to say may seem a little strange to you, but I’ve never sailed for pleasure, entertainment or to relax with family or friends. Never ever. I’ve always sailed for racing, for competition. Any other type of sailing is boring to me.
If you like competition so much, have you already competed in other sports?
Actually, yes, in table tennis. When I was fourteen, I was the champion of my city! And even back then, I was more interested in the competition than in ping pong for fun.
© R.Hajduk / Shuttersail.comWhen did you decide to compete in this Vendée Globe?
There were two different moments, really. First, I decided I WANTED to do the Vendée Globe, and that was right after the Velux 5 Oceans Race. Of course I had to think about a lot of different things and plan for the future of the project. And then the ACTUAL decision came last summer because we tried to find the right persons to talk to, the ones with the right connections to the big companies. And we also wanted to find a good boat, a fast one. It was difficult, it took time.
Why the Vendée Globe, what do you like about this race?
I like competition, and this was the next possible one for me when looking at the schedule. After the Velux, I could have tried the Volvo, but it would have been a completely different project, and I decided I’d rather come here. And I’m so glad I made it, especially since the way to come was so difficult. Being here feels so great because the hardest part of the job – finding money, finding a boat - is over, so now I can enjoy the pleasant part.
« Looking towards the future »
Of all the achievements in your career as a skipper, what is the thing you’re the proudest of?
You know, I have a plan in life. And I know I have so many more exciting things to experience later, once I’ve crossed the Vendée Globe finish line. The Vendée Globe is amazing but it is not an end to me. I’m thinking about the Volvo, the Barcelona, even the Jacques Vabre maybe… When it comes to sailing, I definitely feel more comfortable looking towards the future than looking at the past.
With less than two weeks to go before the start, how are you feeling?
Now that I am here in les Sables d’Olonne, everything is fine. I have a nice boat, there are many people on the pontoons coming to see us, it feels great. But I also know that only a few hours after the start, we’ll have to face scary things. So right after the start signal, I’ll switch to a different mode because my life is at stake.
Are there specific geographical areas in the race that make you feel apprehensive?
You know, the ocean is a dangerous place, wherever you are. You have to play by the rules of the ocean, you have no choice, there’s no way to avoid that. This is a long race, with very difficult conditions at times, we all know that. I’ve sailed around the world before so I know what the tricky places can be, I know what to do. But what makes me feel more nervous is the possibility of something breaking, something I couldn’t fix. There are so many people who have worked hard on this project, who are keeping their fingers crossed for me to make it to the finish line…
And what about your favorite place?
It’s definitely the marina (he laughs).
© Robert HajdukIs sailing a popular sport in Poland?
Poland is a big country in Europe, you know, with almost 40 million people. Some people sail, of course, but offshore racing is not big at all there, it’s one of the least popular sports. Mostly because you need big budgets, I think. We did great in the RS-X sailing event at the London Olympics, though, Poland got two bronze medals! But our ENERGA sailing team is working hard on making offshore sailing bigger in my country, and more popular for young kids. With the help of our sponsor, we are trying to make the kids leave their computers and video games and go sailing instead!
« We have two boats, both ready to race »
Speaking of ENERGA, how did the partnership started?
There are only two big companies – and potential sponsors – in my city, so we went to see them but first, it took a lot of time to identify the right people, the influential and powerful ones who can actually make the big decisions and sign an official partnership. So eventually, the contract was signed only a month ago. That’s why we still have a lot to do, especially with the electronics. I think that of all the teams here at the pontoons, we’re the only ones actually owning two boats, and they’re both ready to race!
Have you set yourself a goal in this race?
I guess I could say one of my goals is to avoid getting bored during the race. Because every time I have a boring day during a race, you can be sure that in the next 24 or 48 hours, something bad will happen (he laughs). No, seriously, I think my main goal is to finish the race, and the second one is to finish in less than 100 days. Let’s not forget that, out of the twenty boats at the start, you’re probably going to have only seven or eight crossing the finish line!
What is your best memory at sea?
It’s a storm I sailed through during The Race in 2000. It had a name, it was actually a cyclone. There were 130-knot winds but the sky was very clear, and there were waves that looked like mountains. It was unbelievable and beautiful vision, really. So of course it was scary, but it was mostly very very nice.
If that is your best memory, your worst memory must be really terrible…
Well, my worst memory is actually the same place, at the same time (he laughs).
« Christmas is just a date in the calendar »
Will you be in touch with your friends and family during the race?
I’ll have three phone numbers with me, that’s it. My wife’s, the boat captain’s and the electronics specialist’s. I’ll keep communication to a minimum, but sometimes the minimum can be a lot! Some days I may call my wife five times, just because I need a voice contact. And there will be emails too, of course. When it comes to communication, I will have a normal life on board, almost like I would on dry land.
Speaking of normal life, will you listen to music or watch movies on board?
I’ll listen to music, yes, 24 hours a day. Movies, I’m really not sure. I may take a selection of books given by my friends and family. But the most important book on board will definitely be the instruction manual!
You’re a smoker. Are you taking any cigarettes with you?
Yes, a lot. Thank God cigarettes are light. I’m planning on a 100-day race and I smoke a pack a day. I’ll let you do the math! I’m storing them in a special place, a place that is only for important things (he laughs). Last time I sailed around the world, I smoked my last cigarette near the Kerguelen Islands, which means I was only half-way through! I ended up trying to make cigarettes with tea. Let me tell you something: it didn’t work!
Do you have on-board celebrations planned for special moments, like Christmas?
Christmas? Forget it. It’s just a date in the calendar, nothing more. I’m taking a cigar for Cape Horn, though. You know, let’s face it, there’s no way you can experience the whole Christmas spirit thing on board, unless you have a Christmas tree on the deck and things like that, but all it would do is make me cry…
Are you a superstitious sailor?
I don’t need to be, the black cat is already there (he laughs as he points his finger at Cheminées Poujoulat, Bernard Stamm’s yacht, with her big cat).