Bouwe Bekking: Not loving it

Published on January 30th, 2015

After racing for 23 days through waters not normally frequented by competition, the third leg of the Volvo Ocean Race which began in Abu Dhabi, UAE is now in Sanya, China. Hardly anyone speaks English and the food is quite different from western cuisine. Not much is the same for Team Brunel either, which finished the leg fifth, and fell down the overall rankings from first to third.

“This was the leg that I dreaded the most,” says skipper Bouwe Bekking. “Not just because of all the hazards, like the hundreds of fishing boats sailing without lights, the sandbanks, the plastic soup and the fishing nets, but most of all for the frustrating calms. Sometimes we didn’t sail more than 40 miles a day. And when someone happened to pick up a gust of wind, they were suddenly 20 miles ahead within a few hours. I don’t think that has much to do with ocean sailing anymore.”

Sometimes Bekking and his men were plain unlucky. “We sailed reasonably well for the first week but we had no luck off the coast of Sri Lanka. We had no wind and were just parked there. Because the following boats did have wind, we watched our huge lead shrink to a few miles within a couple of hours. The gap between us and Dongfeng widened very quickly. In this case, that had nothing to do with a wrong interpretation of a weather forecast but simply the fact that the wind unexpectedly dropped for us.”

Apart from the fact that the boats are all identical, Bouwe also thinks that the teams are now sailing so close to each other because of the so-called Automatic Identification System (AIS) system.

“Every VO65 is equipped with a device that transmits a signal indicating the position and speed of the boat. This system displays a little icon on a digital chart showing other vessels exactly where we are. The system works up to a distance of about 12 miles. You used to be able to switch off the AIS transmitter but now we have to leave it on all the time.

“Sometimes you execute a masterful manoeuvre but because of the AIS your opponents – who make not have considered this move – can see exactly what you’re doing. They then execute exactly the same manoeuvre. It’s mostly the less experienced teams that are making grateful use of this. You can see that when these teams are sailing alone, they drop behind pretty quickly.

“It’s also possible now to keep a close watch on each other for days on end simply with the naked eye or binoculars. It’s regularly happened that after changing a sail we’ve seen our immediate rival change the same sail straight away.”

Looking forward to the next leg, Bekking remains confident with his team. “We’re going to sail the next leg with the same group. There are no medical problems and nobody has lost excessive weight. So on the 8th of February we’ll be setting course for Auckland in good spirits.”

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Background: The 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race began in Alicante, Spain on Oct. 11 with the final finish on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Racing the new one design Volvo Ocean 65, seven teams will be scoring points in 9 offshore legs to determine the overall Volvo Ocean Race winner. Additionally, the teams will compete in 10 In-Port races at each stopover for a separate competition – the Volvo Ocean Race In-Port Series. The fourth offshore leg from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand (5,264 nm) begins Feb. 8 with an ETA of Feb. 25-Mar. 5.

Report provided by Team Brunel.

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