Bouwe Bekking takes a look back at leg one of the Volvo Ocean Race. Enjoy!
Sitting on the veranda of a nice winery near Stellenbosch , a bottle of water, some small healthy snacks and my lovely wife besides me. The sort of drink and food thanks to our splendid health advisors. It sounds maybe strange but not even missing the alcohol after nearly 9 months standing dry. You have to do something to stay in shape and leaving the booze for what it is has helped me a lot. Actually right now preparing for our crewmeeting on wednesday, when all the boys are due to back for business. During that meeting we will go over all the aspects of the first leg, underneath the leg review. Good thing is that I can stripe that of the agenda for our meeting .
We didn’t do a lot of homework in Alicante, no outside weather expert on site, saving money and more important, as Capey (our navigator) said, this one I have got the grip on and know what to expect.
First impression: the easiest leg I have ever done into Capetown: reason not very windy. One front passage leaving Gibraltar gave us briefly 40 knots , although on the nose and from then a cake ride , with the most breeze in the southern ocean was only 27 knots.
The start was good ,leading the way and maybe most important happy faces for sponsors and the hunderds of cloggies who where there to say farwell. It amazes me always so quickly you get back in the routine. One thing I learned from previous races is not to go crazy with sail changes in a thundery conditions like we had: it burns the guys out , but more important is that they don’t get pissed of , as very often if the reactions are impulsive you end up quickly with the wrong sail, meaning doing another sail change. We had our game plan ready and more less stuck to it until we arrived in Gibraltar. Our aim was always to be within 4-5 miles of whoever was leading and don’t split. That girls made a jump on us didn’t worry us for a moment. They made the right move avoiding the big east going current in the Straight of Gibraltar, but we stuck with the fleet, which meant we twice had to cross the east going river, with 4 knots of current. If one other boat would have gone towards gibraltar, we would have tacked as well, but we didn’t want to lead in.
Once well in the Straight we were in a solid 2nd place, but parked under rain cloud. Half an hour later, 8 miles behind number two, ouch, that hurted it bit, but you have to stay calm in such a situation. That evening we had the front passage and that went extremely well. We did the right things there, always well in time to size down in sail combinations and tacked at the right time when the front hit us , you sail quickly away form the mark, of you have a 70 degree windshift. From being 20 miles behind the girls, we were right up front with the others.
From there on it was hugging the African coast, as the Azores high was not established in its usual place, due to some big low pressure systems going across to Europe. For a couple of days it was playing the shifts and the south going current and always keeping an eye on the bearing compare the other boats. The reports Volvo organization is sending 4 times a day don’t mean any thing: we are actually only use the position of the other boats and having our own leaderboard / scoring system. The Volvo score might have a boat in the lead, meaning shortest distance away from Capetown, but in reality this boat can be last , if you take the routing into the account. One gybe can cost tremendously. So we always look at crosswinds, bearing and distance, that really says if we do well or not. As well of course we know if we had any hick-ups during a so-called sched. We did three back downs sailing close to the african coast , to get shit of our keel, not nice as these cost heaps, one did cost us nearly 8 miles!
Once leaving the coast of Mauritania we had a plan in place how we wanted to attack the doldrums. To option , go west, or go SW through the Cape Verdes islands. I don’t know how many routes Capey ran into our imaginary waypoint at the doldrums, but the western Route was never more than 20 minutes behind. A no brainer for us , that route through the Cape Verdes was too risky.
We were in close company of Abu and in in good shape, sometimes they lost, sometimes we lost due to clouds, amazing how much impact this can have. One example: once we were in the SE trades, only 2.5 miles to leeward, we ended up on the wrong side of a cloud. Within 45 minutes, Abu was 8 miles to weather and gained 90 degrees of bearing and this loss got more expensive as from there they always sailed first into the lifting pressure.
The south atlantic we played again conservatively , knowing that south was king, we didn’t do any strange things and stayed to our game plan. Vestas sailed heaps more miles, but risky in our opinion. Ok , they did cross us eventually, but only with 3 miles. If the shift would have come any earleir , they could have missed out by a lot. Abu played middle ground and lost out to us both. This was the point where we started riding the first weak front, 20-23 knots of breeze. We were going well, slowly gaining on both and we knew at one stage we had to make our 90 degree turn in to capetown.. We always wanted to be the most southern boat, as for whatever reason south has very often 1-2 knots more pressure, Abu gybed one hour before us and dongfeng 2 hours before. We lost respectively 22 and 44 miles , not too worried at that stage, but as we all know the pressure never came and we lost out. Game over for the leg. But i have to say we were happy with our performance that last part, not losing out as much as we expected against the leaders and sailing away from the windmill boat. By the way, same team will be onboard TeamBrunel for leg 2.