Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Bouwe Bekking Analyses the Fleet at the end of VOR 2008-9 Leg One

Telefonica Blue skipper, Bouwe Bekking. Image copyright Rick Tomlinson/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Javier Sobrino

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet is now safely in Cape Town at the end of Leg 1. The 6,500 nautical miles from Alicante in Spain saw almost the entire range of wind conditions. An excellent first test for the eight contenders in this round the world race. The eighty-eight crewmembers now have a week of recovery time before the start of Leg 2, from Cape Town to Cochin, India. 4,450 nautical miles sailing northwards into the Indian Ocean, a first unknown region in this race for most of the competitors.

On board TELEFONICA BLUE, skipper Bouwe Bekking had anything but an easy sail during Leg 1. The Spanish boat completed the course in 22 days, 23 hours, 18 minutes and 37 seconds, securing 5th place to stay 4th on the scoreboard. The best reward for Bekking at the arrival was "hugging and kissing my girls", as he says, followed by the champagne spraying, a good shower and shave, and the first proper meal in over three weeks: "My first dinner was Kudu, a local meat that tasted like heaven to my tongue", Bouwe explains. "The transition from eating freeze dried food to normal food is a matter of building up slowly. You like to eat a lot, but your stomach has shrunk. The eyes are always bigger than the stomach, so I've been just taking it easy: Just a little fruit, a little salad, lots of rice, a slow, slow transition."

It was a good welcome for the warrior, but the party did not last long. "This time, the South African stopover is shorter than usual, meaning there is no time to relax. After our first night ashore, we resumed our physical training routine the day after. Fortunately, my knee is going really well, no problems at all. It was the first time I've been running for more than two months, and the run was actually really good, which was a big surprise. That's all good."

After this first leg, the human factor on TELEFONICA BLUE has passed its opening exam with a good grade; so has the boat, which is good news for the shore crew: "The job list in our boat is not massive, all little things," Bouwe says. "The Black boat has got a more extensive list, but ours is not bad at all. The sailmakers have also some small jobs; we have a couple of minor changes to do to certain sails to make them better, but all and all the sails are all in very good shape, and in that sense we are looking good."

From the arrival of TELEFONICA BLUE in Cape Town until the start of Leg 2 on November 15, there is very little time both for shore crews to work on the boats and the crews to recover. Bouwe explains the schedule for the Spanish team: "The main thing is to get the boat back into shape as quickly as possible. We will have a couple of days of meetings, analyzing, discussing performance, etcetera, etcetera. Then I'm going to have a three-day break. On Tuesday everybody comes back to start loading the boats. On Wednesday we want to go for a short sail, slowing the tempo again on Thursday and Friday, so the guys can spend more time with the families. And then Saturday we are off again!"

Analyzing the fleet
After showing her power in the first two In Port races at Alicante, the VO70 TELEFONICA BLUE found herself struggling in the back of the fleet for much of the first offshore leg. Bouwe thinks this to be a very unfair result for a very strong boat: "I think she's just a very good all around boat". And, Bouwe is quick to confirm his confidence in the Farr Yachts' design, "what we've seen so far, in light and medium conditions, as well as heavier reaching conditions is that we're really, really strong. We know we are not the fastest in running conditions, but I think we can make some changes in order to improve the performance in that area. This race has along way to go and I remain confident that, by being a good all around boat, we can be on top of the list at the end."

A good design sailed by a fantastic crew. But Bouwe never loses perspective: "You can always improve. If you think you cannot improve, you are wrong, because you're never perfect. In the sail design we can work a lot, the crew can always work better as a crew. You always work to make the boat go faster; it's a non stop learning and improving process."

What about the other contenders? Bouwe Bekking offers his thoughts about the rest of the fleet, one by one:

Ericsson 4
"Ericsson 4 have shown the benefit lots of sailing and training in a lot of breeze. The boat performs very well in those strong breeze conditions; they broke the 24-hour distance record after all! But she is a heavier boat compared to ours. We've gained on them in the lighter conditions. So, overall, I think Ericsson 4 is a little bit more tiptop in the higher wind ranges than us. And, of course, he must be a fantastic good boat; it is the one that won the first leg!"

"Puma had a great leg too. She was all over Ericsson 4 and up front for much of the course. She seems to be good in the medium to heavy and a little weaker in the light. They have a fantastic crew as well, so it's no real surprise how well are they going."

Green Dragon
"Green Dragon was always a little bit of the dark horse going into the race. They sailed the leg tactically very well, and scored top points at the scoring gate. After that they were not fantastic once the wind built up, but we've seen what happened to their keel. They have a good bunch of guys as well, so I think she is just one of these boats that you don't know."

Ericsson 3
"Ericsson 3 has been surprising in some conditions. They have similar design to Ericsson 4, but I think Ericsson 3 still has some really strong points compared to her teammate. In some parts of the race, she was probably the fastest boat on the water. The crew is young and less experiences, but they are smart guys that will learn and, for sure, will be a strong contender. Now they have received their new keel it will be very interesting to see how they perform."

Team Russia
"As for Team Russia, it's been really surprising how quick they are going downwind. It is probably just a matter of the whole hull shape and a very small keel bulb. What we've seen is that she doesn't seem to be very quick upwind or reaching. That is a consequence of the bulb being really, really light."

Delta Lloyd
"Delta Lloyd has got a very solid boat, the winner of last edition. Even though she's a generation behind she was at the head of the first generation, so she is still a boat with very strong points, such as high stability. I think they'll come up with some surprises before the end of the race."

"TELEFONICA BLACK is just the same as TELEFONICA BLUE. They've shown they are quick in the light, quick in the medium, fast in reaching conditions. Up to now they have struggled a little bit in the heavier downwind running, but like us she is one of the boats that is overall a very, very strong contender because she is good over the range."

Bouwe Bekking

Volvo Ocean Race

No comments: