TEAM BRUNEL

Sailing World - - The Volvo Ocean Race -

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.”

PHOTO : S A N D E R VA N D E R B O R C H / V O LV O O C E A N R A C E

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.

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