by Rob Kothe
Embarking on his eighth edition of the Volvo Ocean race, Dutch skipper Bouwe Bekking is still looking for a win and he was plainly deeply disappointed with Team Brunel’s sixth place in the seven-boat fleet on this 1650 nautical mile Leg One Ocean Sprint from Alicante to Lisbon.
Standing in the sunshine, near the old Fish market in Lisbon, we talked to the veteran skipper, who must have felt at times during the race, that he was in fact racing in reverse.
‘Of course, it was not the result we were hoping for, but it was a great learning curve for the entire crew.
‘It was a hard race for us, as soon as we arrived in Lisbon we had a diver inspect the appendages. We had rudder vibration for much of the race. We know we hit a lot of objects with the rudder, we hit a turtle for sure. And we just about lost count of the plastic bags and fishing lines.
‘We had to do 12 slow and costly backdowns during the race. The inspection was to be sure there was no major damage to the keel, because you must lift out to fix that.
‘The keel was OK, however, both rudders were very knocked about. Right now, on Tuesday afternoon, there are in the final stages of repair, before they go back into the boat.
‘There is so much rubbish in the water, especially in the Mediterranean. We all need to work hard on Keep the Oceans Clean messages. ‘In my first RTW race, I did not have to do a single back down and on this first leg, we did 12 and that says something about the health of our oceans.
‘During the race, the first afternoon was alright, we just had that situation with Dongfeng. That was a big setback for us. Then we had an issue with furling our gennaker. Then about 30 miles down the road, we had to use that sail and that cost us more precious time. ‘But then we sailed well, and we went from last to first, we led the fleet into the Cape (Cabo de Gata – off Almeria). Spirits were high. ‘But from the first morning onwards we were on the back foot. We hit something, the vibrations appeared, and we had to do our first backdown. But the vibrations continued, and it was hard from then on.
‘Both rudders were damaged, on the leading edges especially the one we had the turtle on.
‘After that we were the slowest boat in the fleet. But we kept making good decisions and that at least kept us in contact. We made the right sail changes and we made the right tactical decisions.
‘As we fell back, we ended up fighting Turn the Tide on Plastic. She was faster than us all the time. But the decisions we made stopped them getting away from us, we were fighting for last place. And on the reach from Porto Santo North to Lisbon we sailed through her and held on to take sixth place.
‘We agreed during the race, that we could not just blame the rudder damage, it was a learning curve for us all, how we were setting up the boat. How we are using the new sails too. Since we've come ashore we've been looking at video's and photos to see how the other guys have been configuring their boats as we must ensure we are setting up the boat to sail faster too.
‘From photos and videos, date and time stamped you can see how they are using their outriggers, the amount of twist they have, their sail combinations.
Smiling Bekking added ‘It’s always useful for chefs to look at the kitchens of others.
‘Capey and I have sailed together for a long time, but not the others, so in fact we are still a very new crew. Overall, it’s a very talented crew, the combination of experience along with the America's Cup, people coming from the TP 52's like Maciel Cicchetti, he won with Azzura and we have the two fantastic girls.
‘Our sponsors are very happy with our combination of old foxes and new kids on the block, the up and coming offshore racers, it’s a really nice balance. Of course, we are all new to each other, but overall the atmosphere is great as is the communication.
‘Pete Burling who you saw in the very light conditions at the finish is making the tactical calls when we are having close encounters like starts, finishes, in ports, while I do the driving, while the rest of the crew are doing the trimming, grinding and everything else to keep the boat going.
‘So, we have a really nice definition of the roles, and that was something we had to learn.
‘For example, in the In-Port race we had a couple of hiccups and that is of course because we are learning together.
‘Looking ahead, the big points are in the Southern Ocean and the North Atlantic so that is heavy weather offshore driving and there we are quite lucky. We have Alberto Bolzan, Maciel, myself, Pete, Kyle Langford and Abbey Ehler for starters, ‘In the first night of heavy downwind from Gibraltar, we were smoking and that gave us a lot of confidence for Southern Ocean conditions. Right now, we are looking forward to the Capetown run.’
And you can bet that Bekking and his Brunel crew will have the boat in forward gear.