Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking is making a run at his eighth Volvo Ocean Race in a Herculean quest to win it once and for all, after coming so close in the previous edition. As if the task of competing isn’t difficult enough, Bekking has made it all that much more complicated by joining the race months before the start — without a team, a boat or a single sailor on the payroll. In any other hands, such an approach would be destined for the back of the fleet, but Bekking, 54, is an old hat with a proven track record to lead a team to the podium.
“All of a sudden, Jan Brand, the founder of Brunel, said, ‘Just do it,’” says Bekking. “He guaranteed private money, and then we got the goahead from Brunel’s board. It was a lot of things that had to happen in a short time, but we pulled it off.”
The team will be quite different this time says the Dutchman, but will include two or three guys from the previous crew and then some “brandnew young kids from the America’s Cup.” He was looking at integrating female sailors into the campaign as well.
In the past, Bekking enjoyed months and years to build his team, but
“You know what you’re starting with and taking it on, you’ve chosen to be here, so you’re going to have to give it 100 percent.”
the one-design concept allows him to now plug-and-play his sailors. “It’s different than the old days where there were efficiencies before the start. While it’s always nice to have the time and budget to do it three years ahead, so many of our crew are out there racing with other programs, and they have commitments already, so it makes it especially challenging to start early.”
By midsummer the clock was ticking ever faster: There were only three months on the calendar, but really only 14 days of sailing available to him given pre-race haul-out commitments and boat preparation. “At least we have the data from the last race, he says, “which for us is a very good starting point. We have a good idea where we need to be with the new sails; it’s not rocket science. The data might be a little different, but we will catch up at an early stage and see how we are.” Bekking’s decades-long commitment to the race comes down to one simple fact: He genuinely loves the offshore experience. “The sailing is the most important part,” he says. “I’ve won a lot of races and I’ve tried at this one enough, but it’s still missing. Sure, there are moments where I do hate it, but the challenge of building up a new team is strong this time.”
He admits that they’ll be on the back foot initially, but there are many miles and many opportunities for other teams to make mistakes or experience mishaps, just as his team did in the previous race. His pragmatism is a strength of his leadership style. “I tell the guys, ‘You know what you’re starting with and taking it on, you’ve chosen to be here, so you’re going to have to give it 100 percent.’”
The early key hire for Bekking is his navigator, Andrew Cape, who sailed alongside him in the previous race, and navigated five other Volvo teams before that. He can practically route the course in his sleep, but he’s known for not sleeping much anyway.
While boatspeed is important in this race, says Bekking, the navigation remains a big part. “It’s a team effort, and if the navigator sends you in the wrong direction, the best drivers in the world will take you very fast in the wrong direction. A lot of other teams have put their emphasis on having top drivers, but there are so many more aspects to winning this race.”
As runner-up of the 2014-15 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, Team Brunel returns with its veteran skipper fully in charge of the late-start Dutch campaign.