SAN DIEGO (AP) Bouwe Bekking has sailed more than 300,000 nautical miles during the last 33 years and circled the globe nearly eight times trying to win the Volvo Ocean Race.
After seven unsuccessful attempts, that elusive victory is just 700 nautical miles away if the Dutch skipper can place Team Brunel ahead of MAPFRE and Dongfeng Race Team on the round-the-world race’s final leg, a sprint from Gothenburg, Sweden, to The Hague, Netherlands.
It would be a popular victory, for sure, if the 55-year-old Bekking sails into his home country ahead of MAPFRE and Dongfeng, the only other teams that can win the bluewater classic.
”Of course it’s exciting that the prospect is there,” Bekking said in a phone interview ahead of the start of Leg 11 on Thursday. ”A lot of strange things have happened. The good thing is, I believe we can win. We still have to perform, but if you don’t believe you can win, you shouldn’t start.”
No one has sailed more miles in Volvo Ocean Race history than Bekking, and no edition of the race has come down to a finish like this.
After more than 44,000 miles of sailing, MAPFRE and Team Brunel are tied with 65 points. Dongfeng Race Team has 64 points, but if it finishes ahead of MAPFRE and Team Brunel, it will be positioned to receive a bonus point for the shortest elapsed time around the world. That effectively has created a three-way tie going into the last leg.
Bekking is this close to finally winning the marquee offshore race because he’s led Team Brunel from a slow start to winning three of the last four legs, plus a second-place finish.
Team Brunel was sixth in the seven-boat boat fleet after Leg 6 from Hong Kong to Auckland, New Zealand.
”I’m always a leader that gives a lot of freedom. At Auckland, I had to step up like a schoolmaster, and it all started coming together,” Bekking said.
Bekking knew there was boat speed. There just hadn’t been results.
The crew set a modest goal of finishing third on the next leg, a grueling haul through the harsh Southern Ocean to Itajai, Brazil. They not only won that leg, but earned a bonus point for being the first to round Cape Horn. They followed that with a second place into Newport, Rhode Island, behind pre-race favorite MAPFRE.
”In Newport, I thought, `OK, we actually have a chance to win the race if we win the next two legs,”’ Bekking said. ”We were there.”
He was onto something. Team Brunel won the trans-Atlantic leg to Cardiff, Wales, and finished first on the leg to Gothenburg.
Bekking said Team Brunel’s poor performance early in the race was due to the team getting a late start in preparations and the sponsor’s desire to give the new generation of sailors a chance.
A key crew member is New Zealander Peter Burling, who at 27 has already won the America’s Cup and Olympic gold and silver medals. A victory in the Volvo Ocean Race would give him sailing’s so-called Triple Crown.
Also sailing for Team Brunel is Australian Kyle Langford, 28, who in 2013 was on the Oracle Team USA crew that rallied from an 8-1 deficit to win eight straight races and stun Emirates Team New Zealand in the 34th America’s Cup. A year ago, Burling’s underdog Emirates Team New Zealand shocked Oracle Team USA in an America’s Cup rout.
”People on the team have won big championships,” Bekking said. ”Even if it comes down to the last leg, that’s where experience comes in. I believe in it.”
Burling said Bekking ”gives a lot of responsibility to the other crew. It’s pretty good in that regard. He’s definitely got a wealth of experience he can draw from, with the amount of times he’s been around the world.”
This is Burling’s first round-the-world race, so he can only imagine what Bekking has gone through in his long career.
”It’s definitely a pretty challenging trip and what he’s done for a large portion of his life is pretty unique, to be honest,” Burling said. ”The amount of offshore miles he’s done, you obviously have to enjoy it. He’s a really competitive guy as well. He enjoys pushing the limits. It’s pretty cool for not just him but the whole team. We’ve turned around a pretty average start and actually have a shot going into the final leg. We’re excited at giving it our best crack at the final sprint into Holland.”
Bekking considers himself fortunate to be able to race around the globe, fighting the elements with like-minded sailors.
”I think the first thing is, I just love to be on the ocean,” he said. ”I love to be sailing. If you don’t love that, then there’s no space for you in the Volvo Ocean Race.”
He might soon finally win it.
David Witt, skipper of Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, said Wednesday that he was willing to double and even triple down on his recent prediction that that Bekking will prevail.
”That’s how confident I am Bouwe is going to win,” Witt said.
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson
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