Bouwe Bekking reflects on preparation for VOR

Telefonica Blue training off Alicante, Sept 2008
Maria Muina/Equipo Telefonica

Think about the fastest sailing monohull in the world built without compromise for a single purpose: to race around the world. Think about sharing this boat with 10 of the best sailors you can find. Think about a 37,000 nautical mile racecourse with 10 legs ranging from 400 to 12,300 nautical miles each. Think about sailing at full speed for up to 40 days at a time.

Think about living at that pace 24/7, jumping from wave to wave, constantly wet, often cold, eating only freeze-dried food, attempting sleep in a cacophony of noise. How would you prepare yourself for such an adventure?

It's 0630 and Bouwe Bekking starts his day. The accomplished Dutch sailor is in Alicante, Spain, preparing for his sixth Round the World Race as the person in charge of TELEFONICA BLUE, one of two Spanish entries for the Volvo Ocean Race 2008/09. If you are thinking of kick-starting a VOR campaign, Bouwe is just the person to have on hand. And, as he sets about describing a typical day, one soon realises why. Everything he does is motivated towards the goal of putting the best team on the start-line.

'The alarm goes off, I give my wife a kiss and put the coffee machine on. Actually, to be honest, very often my wife does this, as she is better waking up than I am.and makes better coffee. Then I have a shower, drink the coffee and eat a piece of fruit, while checking my emails. I know this is wrong but it's a habit. My last task of the morning is to wake my daughter and spend a few moments with her.' So far, a normal start for any normal working day.

'At 0720 I ride or run down to the gym which always starts at 0730. I try to leave the gym around 0900-0915 depending on the workout programme, so I can get to the base and have a quick chat with the shore manager before eating breakfast. At 1000 we have a daily meeting with the sailing team to talk about day's schedule. Ten minutes later and we're into a performance meeting to go over the sails and review pictures and performance numbers from the previous day. 1100 sharp it's off the dock and, depending on the breeze, we won't return much before 1700. Sailing is always followed by a quick debrief covering the job list, the sails and any big spikes in the performance. If possible, I try to grab a quick treatment by the physio before dinner, which is set for 1900.' Think the day is done? Not a bit of it. Some of the most important work of the day is yet to be addressed.

One of the keys to guaranteeing good team spirit is sharing moments like dinner. 'This is one of the few times when the crew and shore team get an opportunity to chat about anything. including sailing. It is always a good mix of work and relaxation,' says Bouwe. 'After dinner I have individual chats with different members of the team, go through the usual accumulation of emails, make phone calls, check over performance numbers with Sifi (Simon Fisher) the navigator.'

For Bouwe an early finish is 2030, but the day often comes to a close around 2200. 'If I am alone I'll crash on the sofa and watch television, zapping from channel to channel, a good way for me to switch off. If the girls are home, I'll spend the time with them. Just before 2300 I'll hop in the shower and finally bed is calling.' Fair enough, after more than 14 hours at the office. According to Bouwe, with a regime like this, the hardest part of the training is 'to ensure that everybody gives 100%, 100% of the time and know how to keep their motivation going.'

Next Saturday, October 4th, the action starts in Alicante. 'The good news is that, because of all the preparation we've put in over the last few months, the closer we get to the race start the earlier we start to finish each day. Of course, once we're on the race course a 14-hour day would be like a holiday!'

Every round the world race is different, meaning preparation every time is different. It's a constantly evolving learning process that is especially hard on the novices, those crewmembers that face their first Volvo Ocean Race. But even the experienced sailors like Bouwe learn something new everyday; the difference is that they can also help the first-timers. 'Ask questions and don't try to invent the wheel yourself,' says Bouwe. 'Be positive all the time and make sure that you remember how fortunate you are to have this opportunity, and then, above all, enjoy every minute!'