Bouwe Bekking: Obsession

Team Brunel's skipper Bouwe Bekking is preparing for his 8th Volvo Ocean Race – can he finally get his hands on the elusive trophy?

Volvo Ocean Race
Bekking will return with Brunel Sailing in his eighth attempt at taking home the trophy.Ainhoa Sanchez

The Dutch just love the Volvo Ocean Race. They already boast the most successful skipper of all-time, Conny van Rietschoten, with two overall race victories to his name – and soon they will also be able to lay claim to the most experienced Volvo Ocean Race sailor of all-time, in Bouwe Bekking.

At the age of 54, the Team Brunel skipper is returning for his eighth edition, and he's as hungry as ever to claim that elusive first win.

“It is obvious what my motivation is to come back to the Volvo Ocean Race. That is to win this bloody race”, says Bekking, who finished second with Team Brunel in the last edition.

“I think it's still a realistic goal. That's the big advantage of the One Design rule, because we have all the data from the last race. Correct data is one of the most important things when doing the Volvo Ocean Race, so that is a good starting point for us. In addition, the crew that I am looking at will be very experienced. It is a matter of getting the chemistry together within the team. I have a good feeling about that and I have shown in the past that I can put teams together in such a way that bonding is happening.”

The need for experience is balanced with the campaign's them of 'Engineering the Future' – an initiative launched by a consortium of Dutch companies, including Brunel, Abel, Royal Huisman and EY. "We're looking to build a mixed crew with a winning pedigree, and some under 30 guys and girls," adds Bouwe. "That's the direction that we are aiming at. We are searching for sailors worldwide, because Brunel is an international company and the other partners are interested in an international approach as well.”

With less than four months to go until the fleet lines up on the start line, does Bouwe feel like he has enough time to prepare for a tilt at the trophy? Is it already too late?

“No, I don’t think so," he replies. "If you look at team AkzoNobel, they only started sailing 2 weeks ago. In that sense, we are not late at all. Of course, it would have been good to have more time, but we are not far behind the other boats.”

“We first need a crew and the boat needs to be fully branded. We must change the mast and the dagger boards, so we will be ready in the third week of July."

In terms of crew selection, Bouwe is already working on putting a race-winning squad together. “I am seriously talking to about sixteen people. This morning, I already received about 50 or 60 requests by e-mail,” he says. “I know the guys that I have been sailing with, so I have to look at their characters and their strengths. Also at which person has time and experience, because we will need to swap around some crew, due to obligations. We need to get the whole puzzle together.”

Volvo Ocean Race
Some might say he's obsessed, but for him, it's all about the love of the Race.Dave Kneale

Bekking made his race debut in 1985-86 on board of Philips Innovator, skippered by fellow Dutchman Dirk Nauta. In over thirty years since then, he has done six more races. He has dedicated more than half of his life to winning the Volvo Ocean Race, finished as runner-up twice – and he is still there.

“Maybe it's an obsession, but I just love the Volvo Ocean Race. It's the best sailing that you can have. My main driving points to keep coming back are: fighting the elements with a small team and getting good results. But a lot of people say that I am obsessed and probably even more than that say I'm crazy.”

What about your wife, daughter, family and friends? “They are fully supportive. If you don’t have their support, you should not go on a journey like this. Otherwise you can say your marriage goodbye and that is too precious to me.”

It's not just Bekking who can’t get rid of the Volvo Ocean Race ‘bug’ – the world's best sailors have been obsessed with winning the trophy for decades.

“The race has a name”, explains Bekking. “It is the pinnacle of offshore sailing. It is one of the things, like the America’s Cup and the Olympics, that sailors want to tick off. People know that it's the best sailing that you can have – and it's also a fantastic way to learn about yourself, so maybe the personal challenge of ‘can I actually take this race on’, might also be behind it.”

So why do the Dutch have such a passion for this race, which began back in 1973 in Portsmouth, England? “It comes back to a very old heritage. Every school kid has learned about Michiel Adriaans de Ruyter, a well-known Dutch admiral, and the Nova Zembla stories.

"As a small child in the Netherlands you already know about Holland is a seafaring country. In addition, the Dutch love for the race has been strengthened by Conny van Rietschoten, who won the race twice. That was probably the first time that sailing was on Dutch television. There were great documentaries about both victories.

He continues: "Since then, we have been nearly in all the races. It has greatly been picked up, because sailing is a fantastic sport. The Dutch journalists are also doing a good job in the way they are covering the race.”

Talking about the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, Bekking considers all teams as ‘big competitors’. “Some have started early, others later, some have a lot of experience with the boat and the race, some less, but after all as seen in the last edition, everybody can win a leg. In that sense, I think the next edition will be exactly the same as the last one.”

Do you feel extra competition with team AkzoNobel? “No, I don’t think so, but of course we both represent the Netherlands. Saying that, it's always good if you can beat your fellow countrymen.” He laughs: “It would be a perfect scenario if we come first and they second overall on the finish.”

To the question what would be his advice to Simeon Tienpoint as first-time skipper in the Volvo Ocean Race, Bekkings concludes: “Just delegate, don’t do it yourself.”