Saturday, 7 February 2009
Bouwe Bekking in Qingdao. Image copyright Dave Kneale/Volvo Ocean Race.
by Javier Sobrino
Just nine days after finishing the VO70-killer Leg 4, next step in the schedule of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008/09 is the Qingdao in-port race. Only four out of seven boats (Team Russia pulled out before Leg 4) have been able to reach the Chinese port in time for this third race between buoys. Bouwe Bekking's TELEFONICA BLUE was not only one of those four, but the first to cross the finish line in Qingdao.
The Dutch skipper arrived with a serious injury to his back, generating some doubts about his participation in the next leg. Fortunately, the recovery programme is going well and Bouwe will be ready for the monster leg from Qingdao to Rio de Janeiro. "In the last two days I have made big jumps in the right direction," Bouwe explains. "I am on track with expectations and confident that I will be 100 percent ready for the next leg."
The next leg does not start until Saturday, 14th of February and before that there is another date in Bouwe's agenda: the third in-port race of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008/09, which starts on Saturday, 7th February (tomorrow) at 5:00 hours GMT. "Of course I will do the in-port race! My job calling the tactics is easy from a physical point of view, and since the wind prediction looks very light, I can do it without any negative consequences."
JUST 4 BOATS AT THE START LINE
After the tough Leg 4, only four boats will meet at the start line of Saturday's in-port race: TELEFONICA BLUE, Puma, Ericsson 4 and Green Dragon. Not ideal from the sporting point of view, but a good chance to add some valuable points to the basket. "It is a shame that not all the boats have made it here," Bouwe recognises. "The last leg has shown once again how hard this Volvo race is, and that you have to finish a leg to be successful. On the sailing side, racing against just three other boats will be a little different: If you have a good start, it will be easier to control the fleet, as there are only three other boats there. But, on the other hand, the approach is exactly the same as always, you go out there and try to beat them fair and square."
The rules provide that the winner of the in-port race wins 4 points and with just four boats involved the last home will still add 2.5 points. Thanks to two consecutive offshore wins, TELEFONICA BLUE stands second on the leaderboard, 3.5 points behind Ericsson 4 and 3.5 points ahead of Puma. The weather forecast of light winds may be a great opportunity for TELEFONICA BLUE to further close the gap with the leader, especially since the Spanish boat won the two in-port races in Alicante in similar conditions.
This will be the first time the boats race between buoys in freezing conditions. Not a problem for Bouwe, who lives in Denmark and knows exactly what to expect, "I am used to sailing in these conditions, but it will be an eye opener for some of the competitors. If water comes over the boat, it is very hard to keep your fingers warm. And, of course, you have way more clothes on than usual for an inshore race, so movement is restricted."
On-board TELEFONICA BLUE there will be a couple of new faces: "We are going to have two crew changes. Daryl (Wislang) has not recovered totally from the shoulder injury suffered during Leg 4; we are not going to take any risks, so we have Mike Pammenter standing in for him. Unfortunately, Pepe (Ribes) broke one finger yesterday, and will not be able to race tomorrow, so we will have Javier de la Plaza, from Telefónica Black. Apart from that, of course we're bringing our two powerhouse grinders: Jorge Ondo and Romolo Ranieri."
TELEFONICA BLUE, READY FOR THE FIGHT
TELEFONICA BLUE was first to arrive in Qingdao on Thursday, 29th January. One day later, the boat was lifted out of the water for a complete check and general maintenance. Despite the atrocious conditions experienced by the Spanish VO70, the job list was short, apart from a little "surprise" the shore crew found when it started working on the boat. "We found that one of the engine mounts had wiggled itself lose," explains Bouwe, "and this had caused damage to the frame it rests on. Nothing major, but annoying. For the rest, no issues, which is why we could leave the shed on Wednesday."
One might think that the set up of the VO70s changes dramatically from offshore to in-port mode, but Bouwe explains that there are only a few changes made before leaving the dock for the in-port contests, "basically, we have the same set-up as offshore. The big difference is that we have a lot less weight onboard. No food, no spares, fewer sails, less fuel etc. In theory, we are more nimble when tacking and gybing - no stacking!" The team had its first contact with the in-port racecourse on Thursday, before undertaking some training races today (Friday).
After Saturday's in-port race, the TELEFONICA BLUE team has got another week of rest and preparation before the "monster" Leg 5: 12,300 nautical miles from Qingdao to Rio de Janeiro, including the Southern Ocean and rounding the infamous Cape Horn. Bouwe explains the plans for the next seven days: "we'll take the boat out of the water again, as working ashore in these conditions is much easier than being in the water. Then we load the boat with all the equipment, stores and food, and go for a short sail to make sure everything is fine. Once we're satisfied everything is in order, there will be a couple of days off for the crew. On Saturday 14th, we start a very long leg, so it is crucial that everyone comes with their batteries fully charged"!
Volvo Ocean Race