Bad memories buried in middle of Atlantic Ocean

ALICANTE, Spain, May 21 – Team Brunel’s Bouwe Bekking was embroiled in the battle for the Leg 7 lead in the Volvo Ocean Race on Thursday, nine years to the day when he was at the centre of one of the most dramatic episodes the race has ever seen.

The 51-year-old is taking part in a record-equalling seventh challenge in the 2014-15 race, having lost none of his competitive instinct in 30 years of competition in offshore sailing’s toughest event.

Team Brunel currently lie in third position in the overall standings and were vying for the seventh stage lead with Spanish boat MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP) on Thursday morning, with just 0.2 nautical miles (nm) separating the two.

The thrilling tussle to reach Lisbon, Portugal, first must seem a million years away from the torrid night nine years ago when his boat began to take on water in the mid-Atlantic. With the weather closing in, skipper 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 before the fleet left Newport, Rhode Island. He said that the episode had served as a vivid reminder of the dangers of the Atlantic, although he had confidence that the more robust, one-design Volvo Ocean 65s, were now better prepared for the challenges of the 2,800nm leg.

The subject also came up in the latest episode of the Race’s Inside Track, daily digital programme on Wednesday evening. 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) and I never will in my life,” he said.

Meanwhile, he 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 slightly better breeze to nudge ahead. With around 1,950nm and a week’s sailing left before the fleet arrives in Lisbon, all six boats, once again, have a chance of snatching victory.

Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) made the most gains in the position report at 0931 UTC, thanks to an extra knot of boat speed, and although they still trailed at the back of the pack, they were only 6.9nm adrift of MAPFRE.

Overall leaders Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) were, as usual, handily placed in third place despite reporting a collision with a wooden pallet. 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 miles.

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