Bouwe Bekking reports on Leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race - from Alicante to Fernando de Noronha. It's been almost two weeks since the Volvo Ocean Race fleet left Alicante to start the first leg of 37,000 nautical miles around the globe. From Alicante, Spain, to the waypoint at Fernando de Noronha, an island off the Brazilian coast, means 3,000 miles for the hulls of most of the competing boats, including a slow crossing of the Doldrums. On board TELEFONICA BLUE, Bouwe Bekking has made some key decisions in these past 13 days of racing. The first came early, as early as 20 nautical miles after the start from Alicante. A sickening crack while fighting for the lead with Ericsson 4 put the crew on alert. After checking the damage, Bouwe decided to make a pit stop before facing the Atlantic Ocean.
'Plenty has been going on in my head in this last 36 hours,' Bouwe wrote on October 12th. Now we are finally settled in after a shocking start. Due to bad bonding, a piece in the steering mechanism had failed and we did a quick repair but didn't feel confident to keep going with that. So we decided to take the 12-hour penalty by doing a pit stop in Algeciras. I keep asking myself how this breakage could have happened. We did ultrasound the entire hull, the dagerboard, the rudderblades... but not the tiller arms. I could bang my head here on the navtable but I know it won't help. The shore crew has been magnificent and have done a great job for us. They deserve a holiday not an emergency phone call so soon after the departure.'
By yesterday, some 12 days later, Bouwe knew they had made the right choice. 'Making the stop in Gibraltar has been the most important decision so far. I'm really happy that we did it because we have been using the rudders a lot and there has been a lot of pressure on them, so in that sense it was good. Not to mention that if it had to happen, it was much better that it happened off the Spanish coast rather than 1,000 miles into the race in the middle nowhere!'
October 15h, another tough day. 'We broke our A2 running spinnaker this morning,' Bouwe wrote. 'It just gave up and tore right through the middle and it was all hands on deck to prevent it from falling in the water. Now we are using a sail that is 150 square metres smaller, so we have to keep sailing at the right angle for this sail otherwise we end up cheating ourselves.'
Over the next few days the fleet stretched and tucked like an accordion. Sometimes because of wind changes and sometimes because of right or wrong tactical decisions on board the eight participating boats. 'Tactically I'm quite happy with our decisions so far,' Bouwe explained yesterday. 'We made a couple of small mistakes by not sailing more offshore along the African coast and we did not make the best decisions when dealing with the Doldrums, which ended up costing us a hundred miles against the head of the fleet. But at the end of the day here we are, standing in 5th place, some 3 hours behind the leader, sailing in front of three competitors after passing Fernando de Noronha. The good news is that we are still leading the leader board and keeping our 12 hour penalty from day two in mind, these numbers mean we aren't doing that bad!'
Let's remind ourselves about the evolution of TELEFONICA BLUE over these past two weeks:
day 1 - 6th in the fleet, 49 miles behind the leader
day 2 - 8th, 90 miles
day 3 - 8th, 77 miles
day 4 - 7th, 110 miles
day 5 - 7th, 137 miles
day 6 - 7th, 163 miles
day 7 - 7th, 161 miles
day 8 - 6th, 67 miles
day 9 - 5th, 41 miles
day 10 - 5th, 79 miles
day 11 - 5th, 139 miles
day 12 - 5th, 114 miles
day 13 - 5th, 26 miles.
Last night, TELEFONICA BLUE crossed the Fernando de Noronha waypoint in 5th place, adding 2.0 valuable points to their basket that ensured their current overall lead in the race.
Fernando de Noronha marks just about the halfway point on this first leg to Cape Town, South Africa, at approximately 3,400 nautical miles. In the last edition of the race, ABN Amro One completed the 6,400 miles from Vigo to South Africa in an impressive 19 days, but this time it seems the winds are not going to help the fleet stick to the initially estimated 23-day arrival time. 'Although we don't have the forecast for the whole way, we estimate that it may cost at least ten to eleven days to get to Cape Town on the second part of the leg. Not really quick, and it seems that we will have to start diving quite South, close to Rio de Janeiro and from there on we will have to go East. It's going tp be a very, very long leg; way longer than expected. That said, the food isn't going to be an issue -we always load food onboard keeping in mind that this can happen- but the fuel is a very big issue, because we are using way more than expected. We got all the media equipment very late and it's consuming more fuel than we remember from the last edition. We thought we had been conservative with our daily consumption of fuel, but in fact we are exceeding our rations. This is something that is out of our hands and the only thing we can do now is to try and save as much as we can.'
Saving fuel means trying to save as much energy as possible. Not a good deal when you are sailing near the Equator with temperatures of over 40 degrees Centigrade below deck. 'Downstairs the guys have problems sleeping, especially now that I have banned the use of the fans to save electricity, not a very popular decision. Jono looked at me very strangely when I joked that next on the list is the ban on i-pod charging. I think all the guys have one so we need to decide when the charging can take place. If things get really bad we will just have to switch everything off and do dinghy style sailing during the day, as we have plenty of guys who have sailed their entire lives without instruments.'
What is for sure is that whatever the conditions the crew of TELEFONICA BLUE may find themselves in over the next few days, and whether they sail with or without instruments, Bouwe has a special reason to hurry: 'the quicker we are there, the more days I have with my family!'
For more information about Bouwe Bekking please visit www.bouwebekking.com