by Javier Sobrino
Cochin, India, at the finish of the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008/09. Bouwe Bekking has just jumped off TELEFONICA BLUE after 16 tough days of racing from Cape Town, South Africa, on the first unknown leg of this edition. On 15 November, the Spanish VO70 left the dock in 4th place on the leaderboard and currently stands in 2nd after a fantastic result over this leg. Bouwe is a happy camper.
"Yes, I'm really happy, not only for the result, but also for the circumstances. It was a big achievement, especially from the scoring gate on." Bouwe is referring to the difficulties TELEFONICA BLUE encountered throughout the 4,450 nautical miles from South Africa to India, including the breakage of a daggerboard - the "busted wing," in the words of Navigator Simon "SiFi" Fisher- on day nine.
"We still don't know exactly what happened, it looks like a collision with an object, and after that the board disintegrated into a thousand pieces. We were just sailing along, heard a big bang and that was it." Every VO70 has two daggerboards that prevent the boat slipping sideways. Some teams have a spare one on board just in case something goes wrong, but TELEFONICA BLUE does not. The Farr designers drew two different shaped daggerboards for the port and starboard side, meaning they may not be swapped over in the event of damage. To carry a spare would mean carrying two boards, resulting in considerable extra weight. Bouwe's boat ended up sailing over half of this leg without the starboard daggerboard.
"The problem is that without a board you don't have anything to stop the leeway. The hull creates lift and so does the rudder, but when the keel is canted you need a board for the tighter wind angles, and that we were lacking. If you sail straight, you find yourself sliding sideways through the water, and to compensate you use extra rudder, which is slow and still you don't head where you want." And that was just one of the handicaps burdening TELEFONICA BLUE before crossing the finish line.
Dodging the clouds
After adding two points for being 5th to the Waypoint at 58ºE, the wind, the currents and the fearsome Doldrums added increased tension to the last stretch to Cochin for Bouwe. In his daily reports - all filed on www.bouwebekking.com - Bouwe mentioned several times that clouds were one of the key difficulties. But, how does a cloud affect the sailing of a VO70, the fastest monohull in the world? "Clouds spit the wind out, so there is more breeze ahead of a cloud," Bouwe explains. "The best way to pass a cloud is in front of it, especially when it holds rain. So you try to judge your course to make sure you cross ahead, but if the cloud is massive you just have to cross your fingers and hope that you don't get sucked in or behind. Very often there is hardly any wind or even no wind at all in the wake of the cloud." Even the fastest monohull needs wind.
A quick look at the progress of TELEFONICA BLUE during the leg suggests the Doldrums crossing was not much of a problem for Bouwe's boat; the Farr design proving to be faster than the rest of the fleet in light to medium breezes. The reality is different. The "busted wing" seriously limited the performance of the boat and influenced it position on the course: "We wanted to cross the Doldrums a little further east to keep the SE trades longer, but we always wanted to be west of the fleet, since once you exit the Doldrums the westerly comes through quicker. We wiggled ourselves nicely through the light air and ended up being a bit lucky to pick up the westerly so quickly."
Whether it was luck or just a good strategy, the positioning paid off and TELEFONICA BLUE found wind way before most of the fleet after abandoning the Doldrums. "The Indian Doldrums crossing was little different to the Atlantic Doldrums," Bouwe says, "since no wind means no wind. The only thing is that the Atlantic is more predictable. There have been so many sailing passages and races that the accumulated data is huge and you learn from that."
Yes, we can
The evolution of TELEFONICA BLUE in this race shows an improving curve. After the double win at the Alicante In Port races, Leg One turned into a hard lesson about the performance of the boat in high breeze running conditions, a frailty partially solved during the Cape Town stopover. Now the boat performs a lot better downwind and according to Bouwe "the gap to the faster boats in tough running conditions has changed tremendously and is closing up. In the first leg we lost 500 miles in three days, and now after one week of sailing we lost barely 100 miles. In that sense we made a huge improvement. We are getting better and better, learning how to configure the boat when sailing over 30 knots downwind, which is a big step forward compared to the first leg." A positive attitude for the Dutch sailor, who adds: "Yes, we can win this race."
As Bouwe was speaking, his team-mates on TELEFONICA BLACK were crossing the finish line in 4th place. "It's just fantastic for them and for the entire team. First of all they stole a couple of points from the boats just behind us on the leader board, which is good news for us. But, of course, it is a great result for them too because they were sailing at the back of the fleet for a long time and just in the last beat they've showed themselves capable of being smarter and faster than the other guys. They came from way behind, passed them and beat them."
Bouwe now has less than two weeks in Cochin, India, before the start of Leg Three to Singapore. "The efforts made by the organisers of the stopover are quite impressive," he says. "The facilities are really good, the set up for the teams and the boats is fantastic and they are making our life really easy. I can only congratulate those responsible for the venue and thank them for such a good stopover."
More good news both for the crew and the shore crew is the short job list for TELEFONICA BLUE: "We have very few things to do. Basically, if we put in a new canard (daggerboard) we could go racing tomorrow again. That is really, really good."