Veteran Volvo Ocean Race skipper Bouwe Bekking was battling for the lead of the seventh leg on Thursday, nine years to the day when an earlier boat he captained sunk in the middle of the Atlantic.
The Dutchman, 51, is in the midst of a record-equalling seventh challenge for offshore racing’s most prestigious crown and has twice finished runner-up after first competing in 1985/86.
On May 21, 2006, his hopes of winning the ninth edition of the 42-year-old event literally began to sink when his boat, Movistar, started to take on water.
Bekking was left with the agonising decision of whether to abandon ship, or attempt to save his stricken vessel.
With ABN AMRO TWO’s crew standing by, he opted to put the safety of his sailors first, and Movistar eventually sank, never to be recovered.
Bekking was asked about that dramatic night in the pre-departure press conference in the current race’s previous stopover in Newport, Rhode Island, last week.
He said that the episode had served as a vivid reminder of the dangers of the transatlantic leg, although he had confidence that the more robust, one-design Volvo Ocean 65 boats, were now better prepared for the challenges of the 5,800nm leg.
The subject also came up midweek when a reporter questioned him about it during a call to the boat, but the big Dutchman insisted he had moved on.
“I haven’t thought about it at all. At that time it was a shame because we’d been working for two years on a project, but I haven’t laid awake one night,” thinking about it, he said, “and I never will in my life.”
Meanwhile, Bekking was forced to cede a narrow advantage at the head of the 2014/15 fleet to Mapfre, who were able to make the most of a slightly better wind speed to nudge ahead in the leg from Newport to Lisbon.
With around 1,950 nautical miles (nm) and a week’s sailing left before the fleet arrive in Portugal, all six boats, once again, have a chance of snatching victory.
Team SCA’s all-female crew made the most gains in the latest position report at 9.42am GMT (1.42pm UAE), thanks to a one-knot quicker boat speed than their rivals, and although they still trailed at the back of the pack, were only 6.9nm adrift of Mapfre.
Overall race leaders Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing were, as usual, handily placed, sitting third despite reporting a collision with a wooden pallet drifting in the Atlantic.
There was no damage done to either crew or boat, but the team slowed briefly while they cleared the pallet off the keel. In all, they lost about four nautical miles.
The boats are expected to arrive in Lisbon on May 28 for a 10-day maintenance period before the fleet set sail for the final two legs of the round-the-world, nine-month marathon.
This will take them to France (Lorient), the Netherlands (The Hague) and Sweden (Gothenburg). The race finishes on June 27 in Gothenburg.
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