At least, that’s Bouwe Bekking’s story and he’s sticking to it. After winning Leg 4 in conditions that this veteran Volvo skipper says were the worst he’s ever experienced in all his years of competing in the race, Bekking claimed that his decision to go out to sea rather than seek the shelter of the Luzon shore was not daring race tactics but pure seamanship – in severe weather, head for open sea and keep away from the land.
Maybe. But first he had to be sure that his vessel was tough and seaworthy. He has done the Open 70 class a great favour. Because they are normally driven very hard in what would have been considered survival conditions not that many years ago, breakages of all kinds are common, and plenty of traditionalists have been unhappy with the way sailing was developing.
What Bekking did was decide that, for once, this was truly a problem of surviving, and changed the mode in which he sailed his boat. He cleared the decks of everything not related to the heavily-reefed rig he was flying. He centralised the stacking of sails inside the boat and put the keel vertical – the boat was equally stable on either tack. Then he directed his crew to sail carefully – something he was better able to judge, he says, after he hurt his back helping move sails and ended up confined to his bunk.
Congratulations, all the Leg 4 crews – there was a lot of damage done, some by wind and water and some by fairly solid underwter objects, but no-one had to be rescued.