The Volvo Ocean Race has witnessed the return of a legend in Alicante with the arrival of Holland’s Bouwe Bekking who is a veteran of five round the world races and most recently as the skipper of the third placed Telefonica in the previous race. Bekking said he was already enjoying his time at the Legends, despite having only just arrived.
'I think the whole idea of this reunion is fantastic. I have only been here a few hours and I have already run straight into a bunch of round the world sailors that I haven’t seen for twenty something years. The atmosphere is amazing.'
'Its important to have this sort of event because all of us who have come here have been around the planet and we all know what we faced during those races. A lot of these guys really deserve to be called legends because they have come through extreme experiences in their life that most people will never have to face.'
For Bekking, what makes the Volvo Ocean Race so special is the participants’ desire to compete. 'First of all, you have to be selected to do this race and I think that makes it all the more rewarding. For most people involved in the early days it was a long-time dream to do the Volvo Ocean Race and somehow they found a way to become involved and ultimately fulfill their goal.'
Despite the rise in the level of professionalism in the modern day race Bekking still believes that competing in the Volvo Ocean Race is something most professional sailors aspire too. 'Since I did my first race in 1985, up to my last race in 2008-09, the profile has changed dramatically from adventurers to top sailors and professional sportsmen nowadays. I think though, for most pro-sailors, being a part of this race is the pinnacle.'
Bekking cites the double-winning performance of Cornelis van Rietschoten as his personal inspiration for first getting involved.
'In Holland we were very lucky to have Conny who won the race twice. I can remember watching the footage and thinking ‘that’s what I want to do!’ The race became my dream and I was fortunate enough to be able to make it happen.'
Bekking says his experiences in five Volvo Ocean Race campaigns perfectly illustrate the evolution of the race. 'In the old days the boats were so different to now and the strategy was very different. Back then there were no restrictions on the courses, so of course we would go as far south as we could in order to sail the shortest course.'
'That meant that we got very close to the ice down there. At times we were sailing within 60 miles of the main mass of ice. It was so cold and I will never forget the shock the first time I came on deck and saw all of the guard rails on the boat were completely covered with ice.'
In recent races the yachts have been restricted in how far south they can sail, a change which Bekking fully supports.
'In those days it was an adventure to sail around the world and the only goal was to finish and beat the other guys. Our only strategy was to sail the shortest route in the most wind. If some boats didn’t finish then it didn’t really matter. Now the race is much more professional and the boats are so much faster.
'It is no good for anyone if boats are damaged and they go so fast that sailing through ice would be just unsafe. It’s important for the sponsors too that the teams are not required to take unnecessary risks.'
Bekking knows better than most what will be going through the minds of the six skippers who are preparing for this weekend’s start of Leg 1 from Alicante to Cape Town.
'I am sure they are all as well prepared as they can be and I would just advise them to try to make sure that, within all the madness that goes on during the race, they manage to take some time to enjoy the experience. This is a remarkable race and they and their crews will have some wholly remarkable experiences before they arrive in Galway next July.'
Volvo Ocean Race website