Harken Derm

Coveting the secrets and tricks of this new game

Published on August 6th, 2014

While five of the Volvo Ocean Race Teams will be competing this weekend in the Round Britain and Ireland Race, there will be one team that will be secretly sailing off the coast of Africa, choosing to train in isolation in Lanzarote of the Canary Islands.

Team Brunel had gotten the first skin in the Marina Rubicon Round Canary Islands, beating the women’s team and the Spanish team. Perhaps from that result, they want to continue on their own path of perfection. Onboard reporter Stefan Coppers shares a glimpse…


Suddenly it’s silent aboard Team Brunel. The wind is blowing from behind at 25 knots. The crew trims the A3 asymmetric gennaker. Below deck navigator Andrew ‘Capey’ Cape looks at his monitor to see what the effect of this sail trim is on the boat speed. While lying on the foredeck crew member Pablo Arrarte Elorza is checking the headsail.

“Do not write down what change we have made to the gennaker, otherwise we’ll have to throw you overboard,” says skipper Bouwe Bekking. Loud laughter blasts through the cockpit. “We’ve never sailed so hard in these circumstances. The boat, with the same wind, waves and course, is faster than ever before.”

The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 will be different to previous occasions. Previously, the team with the most money often won. They bought the most expensive and, often, quickest boat. Teams with smaller budgets had no chance. With the introduction of the VO65, a 20-metre one-design racing yacht with exactly the same rigging, equipment and weight, the costs of mounting a competitive campaign were reduced significantly. And nothing may be changed.

“I’m slightly unhappy with the genoa,” grumbles Laurent Pagès, “but fortunately all teams have to deal with the same sails.”

And so the difference between the boats is smaller than ever, and it comes down to the quality of the sailors. For that reason, Team Brunel chose Lanzarote as a training base. Here they can use the steady winds to test out their strategy. Navigator Capey with his “secret” computer plays a key role in the team tactics and strategy.

It’s early in the morning. Today, Team Brunel goes around the Canary island of Lanzarote. Standing at the stern Capey gives the crew strict instructions. He is opting for exactly the same course as last week. Not only the weather conditions are identical, also the wind is blowing from the same angle and with the same speed. Today the only difference is the boat trim.

In the first hours of the training Bouwe is sailing with the weight slightly forward compared to last week. An hour later, a sail in changed. Capey’s computer is working overtime. All data is collected and stored on the hard drive of the Australian navigator’s PC.

“This way we know exactly when we had the highest boat speed and with which sail configuration we did this,” says Bouwe Bekking.

Team Brunel has been training for five months now. During a day aboard the Dutch VO65 you discover dozens of secret sail trim and boat optimization tricks. Bouwe Bekking doesn’t want to reveal his secrets yet.

“We’re not going to make the competition any wiser. Let them work it out for themselves,” he grins. During the first part of the leg from Alicante to Cape Town, Team Brunel will not play their cards immediately. Jens Dolmer: “We will wait until we are out of sight of our opponents.”

The training regime is striking intense. While in the office you may sometimes be less productive through having a short chat or a coffee, the guys of Team Brunel almost never relax when sailing and pushing the limit. “You train like you race and you race like you train,” says bowman Gerd-Jan Poortman. “For this reason alone I like sailing.”

Background: The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race starts October 4 and will take the fleet to 11 cities in 11 countries – Spain, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, United States, Portugal, France, The Netherlands, and Sweden – and will require the teams to cover 38,739 nautical miles over nearly nine months. It will be the first edition using the new one design Volvo Ocean 65 racing boats. Race website: http://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html

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