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Bouwe Bekking: A career of racing around the world

Bouwe Bekking
(May 7, 2009) Telefonica Blue skipper Bouwe Bekking (pronounced "Bower Becking") might not be a household name in North America, but he is among Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) followers. Having begun in his early twenties, he is in the midst of his sixth race, and will turn 46 before this race is done. When he is not home in Denmark, it would seem that he is going around the world. Scuttlebutt met with him in Boston to learn about Bekking and the race that has become his career:

  • What are the pros and cons of the VOR for the professional sailor?

  • The long-term contract is clearly a benefit of the race (approx 16-17 mos). Also, the team atmosphere is one of the great things, not only with your own team but with the other teams as well. Even though you are rivals on the water, you are so close to each that once you are in the harbor, everyone becomes one big family. Of course, the sailing is just fantasticÖ you canít get better sailing. As for the cons, being away from the family is very hard for us as well as for the family. Some of the legs have been miserable, like when we went from Singapore the China, going upwind for 14 days in horrible weather, but that is one of those things that you know what it will be like in advance, but even then you are thinking, wow, I would rather be racing in Key West Race Week. You can question why you are doing this. Just nearing the finish in Boston, some of the guys were saying it was the coldest part of the race so far. But now that we are hear, you forget about it. You always forget the bad parts very quickly.

  • Can you compare the VOR to the Americaís Cup?

  • Unlike the Americaís Cup, we are competing from start to finish. In the Americaís Cup, you know that there is only one team going to the finals. For the crew on a lot of the Americaís Cup teams, they know they are not going to make it to the finals. In the VOR, the race is far more open. Everybody has a good shot at getting on the podium.

  • What is it about the VOR that falls within your personal strengths?

  • I think my competitive attitude, my desire to never give up and push to the limits, has helped me in this race. After six races, my experience is a huge asset as well. That is one of the nice things for a professional sportsman in sailing, is how experience is such a big plus. There are guys that are older than I am that can do very well, as they can go back on their experiences. The past experiences allow me to keep thinking ahead, knowing when to swallow sometimes, and keeping a grasp on the big picture. However, that is also what makes it difficult for the younger guys to come in. For me, as I grow older, I try to do as much as possible for the young guys, to bring them in, to do as much as possible for their sailing in general.

  • In the last VOR, your boat (Movistar) had a lot of problems, and then eventually sunk. What did you learn from that effort that better prepared you for this race?

  • The boat let us down in the end. ABN Amro was clearly the fastest, but I always thought we had a chance at being a solid second, and in some conditions we were even faster. But with all the breakdowns, we never had a chance to show what we were capable of. The sad thing is that we had such a great run up before the race, doing nearly 35,000 training miles before the race started, and didnít have any big problems. All the advance work looked really good. Then when the race started, the problems began adding up, and made you think that if we hadnít done all these miles maybe the boat would have stayed in one piece.

  • What is it about the VOR that is least understood?

  • I think the toughness and always having the pressure. From the moment you start, you are always running out of time, and you donít have enough people. Nine out of ten times, if you need to get things done, you need people. You think you are well organized, but there are always setbacks that you canít foresee. And then you have the restraints in the budget, so you are always putting a lot of pressure not only on the sailors, but the shore crew as well. Sometimes they are working 20 hours a day. That is one of the things people on the outside donít see. They might see the boats look shiny, they go racing, and it all looks so glamorous, but it is so hard to demonstrate to the outsiders the amount of work that goes in to each team. The shore crew is the ones that are really having a tough time, and the same for the sailors. Really long days, they donít see their families, and it makes you ask about going around the world, and how hard it is. It is a bloody hard race, but it is hard to show.

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