The first offshore leg of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 starts Saturday October 11th. At 1400 hours, 88 of the best sailors in the world will launch eight boats into a 37,000-mile race around the globe. This edition features ten stopovers, including in the race schedule countries never before visited by this round the world race - India, Singapore, China and Russia. The first leg will drive the VOR circus from Alicante, Spain, to Cape Town, South Africa, some 6,500 miles through the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Onboard TELEFONICA BLUE, Bouwe Bekking is the most experienced offshore sailor of the 11-person, 7-nation crew. If any of them could claim to know about extreme sailing, it would be the Dutchman, Bouwe. This will be his sixth round the world race, Bouwe knows exactly what to expect and what to fear. What's first when you face a challenge like this: mind or body?
The mind comes first: you really have to ask yourself if you can cope with the pressures of such a long race. An important consideration here is whether you and your family can handle being separated for such a long time. What do you think about the new race course?
Personally I preferred the old style of race with just three stops -- that said, here I am again. To encounter the unknown, sailing in areas where I have never ventured before will be a huge personal challenge. I'm sure we will have great racing on the new legs, but one of my real hopes is that bringing the race to new places will help sailing to evolve in these countries.
On the other hand, I think that it will be hard to enjoy the stopovers in some of the new ports. However great your shore crew might be, I know from experience that in some places everything, even the simplest things, can be a struggle. This is especially so where there is no yachting culture. Do you think we will see big differences between the boats?
We know how all our competitors look and we can see that we are all on the same track with designs seemingly within the same parameters. Whilst there are no great extremes, there are some differences in the detail or execution. It will be very, very interesting to see how we all compare to one another once we get underway. Will success depend upon a fast boat or good navigational decisions?
The format of the race has changed. For example, in this edition we get position reports from the other boats every three hours which means that every smart move will be noticed way quicker by the competition. So, I still think that having a fast boat will make a big difference. Tactically, it would enable one stick close to the opposition and put on the afterburners when you approach the finish, rather than be constantly searching to make a break from the pack. What do you think about the incorporation of the media crew member onboard?
I think it is great for the public and great for our sport. This time it will be possible to record footage in situations where previously the camera would stay downstairs, because all hands were needed to sail the boat properly or safely. With our nominated media person we have someone who will do a tremendous job for our sponsors, the sport of sailing in general and above all, the public. How has the double win in the In Port races affected the mood of the team?
We are all in this game with one objective and that is to win. It's always nice to start with a smile, and winning in Alicante has been great; the best gift for our sponsors and supporters, for the Spanish public in general and then for the public of Alicante in particular. Of course the mood of the team is now more relaxed and you see happy faces all around. But we all know that we have a long race ahead of us and anything can happen. The real challenge starts on Saturday. Any advice for your team mates on the TELEFONICA BLACK?
First and foremost to remember that there is no real difference between the two boats -TELEFONICA BLUE and TELEFONICA BLACK. When we've been sailing they've beaten us in a lot of informal races and tests. So, my real advice to them is to believe in yourselves. Stay on top of things, take it easy at the beginning and then it will only get better and better. How do you approach the first leg to Cape Town?
History has proven time and time again that the first boat to Cape Town is very often the overall race winner. In the last race we had to retire from the first leg, something I never expected after all the mileage we had done in practice, so we definitely have something to prove. It will be a very good indication of how our boats are going to perform against the other teams. Do you think what happened last time will affect the way you face this first leg?
Yes, a little bit. Understandably, I think, my fear is that something might break. This situation is still in the back of my mind after my experience in the last race when we had problems on the first night out. What is your biggest fear about the race?
Quite simply, my overriding fear has always been losing someone over the side. What do you think are the keys to winning this VOR?
You need a fast boat and a great team. I'm really happy with the tools we have in both of these areas. In general, I think that the second generation VO70s are that much faster than in the previous edition, but importantly I suspect the speed differentials are much smaller. Last time there was one competitor that was so much faster than the rest of us that they could sail around the world with two fingers in their nose and still win. That's not the case this time. It will be a lot closer, so the key will be keeping it together for all 37,000 miles and that will be tough. www.bouwebekking.com