Saturday, 6 June 2009

VOR: Bouwe Bekking - Last Three Weeks of the Volvo Ocean Race

Bouwe Bekking on board Telefonica Blue. Image copyright Gabriele Olivo/Telefonica Blue/Volvo Ocean Race.

by Javier Sobrino

It may be just 1,250 nautical miles from Galway (Ireland) to Marstrand (Sweden), Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008/09, but for Bouwe Bekking and the Telefonica Blue team it's more than simple distance: it's a fight for eight valuable points and another chance to win.

When comparing this leg to others, like the 'monster leg' from China to Brazil (12,300 nm), this one could be seen as a simple 'tourist trip' for the VO70s, but in this race everything counts, as Bouwe says: 'Of course we would like to win the leg, as that will mean gaining points on Ericsson 4 and Puma. In that sense it's not much different from any other legs.'

However there are many differences between these European legs and the longer offshore legs, as any sailor may tell you. Bouwe summed it up nicely: 'You can say it is different as it is much shorter than the previous ones, which means if you are ahead there is less time to get passed by other boats but clearly, it is also the other way around if you are behind. The other difference is that we go around a lot of corners: the southwest tip of Ireland and England, the northern tip of Holland and Denmark, so cutting corners means less miles.'

For the first time in a long while, Bouwe will sail through home waters on his way to Marstrand, making this leg something special for the Dutch sailor: 'It will be nice to sail through home waters. I am familiar with them and hope that will give us that little extra something that could make the difference!'

Knowing part of the route means knowing the difficulties along the way. 'On the way from Galway to Marstrand there are lots of difficulties: huge tides, in some places up to 5 knots, navigating the rocky corners of Ireland and England, shallow banks to pass in the channel, and lots of shipping. Not an easy route at all!'

But there is still more to consider on the 1,250 nautical miles of this leg: the weather conditions. 'Normally you would believe the weather history and it should be relatively light, as we are getting close to high summer. But we have already seen a couple of times in this race where the history didn't match the actual weather...'

As of Saturday's start of Leg 8, and until the finish in St Petersburg (Russia) on 27 June, there is exactly 2,175 nautical miles, three weeks and three legs -plus an in-port race- up for grabs. That's 28 points if you win everything, and considering the leader Ericsson 4 stands only 13 points ahead of Telefonica Blue, one can say that the battle's not over yet. 'There are still 28 points to go, it will get harder, but it's still possible,' Bouwe remarks. 'In the last race ABN was last in Gothenburg. I'm not saying that will happen, Ericcson 4 has been sailing very well, but if we get a scenario like that and we win, the pressure will immensely increase for them.' In order to get one step closer to that goal, the first thing for Bouwe Bekking's team to do is clear: 'Keep a very close eye on all the opponents and sail conservatively, stay in between the opponents and the finish.'

But although the Spanish team is focused on closing the gap with the leader, they don't forget who is standing just behind them: Puma, with only one point less on the leaderboard. 'I still think it is too early to focus on them,' Bouwe says. 'Of course we would like to beat them and keep our 2nd place, but we still are looking at first place right now.'

On board Telefonica Blue there will be no major changes for the remaining legs, as Bouwe says: 'No changes to the boat, we are going to card our last new sail and that depends on the final weather forecast just before we leave. In terms of food, we're going to keep our freeze-dried diet from Galway to Marstrand. We are not allowed to take any stores or any equipment onboard once we are in Marstrand, so it means freeze-dried for the part to Stockholm as well. The last leg will be a mix of the two.'

Saturday at 14:00 GMT the action starts again as Telefonica Blue and the six other VO70's leave Galway on the way to Mastrand. Bouwe recognizes that he fell in love with this ancient little city in the west coast of Ireland: 'Together with Alicante, Galway has set a great example for all the other stopovers for how this Volvo show can be done perfectly. In three words: an excellent stopover!'

Bouwe Bekking
Volvo Ocean Race

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