INTERVIEW: Dutch eye Volvo Ocean Race bid
Efforts are underway in the most successful Volvo Ocean Race nation to scrape together €16 million and enter a Dutch boat in the round-the-world’s 2014-15 edition. One party at work is the Team Heiner sailing events organization. “We are having national and international conversations but as yet nothing firm to report,” Team Heiner spokeswoman Helga Oosterkamp tells Zeilen Magazine. Putting a big shoulder to the wheel are VOR veterans Gerd-Jan Poortman and Bouwe Bekking. Their Sailing Holland initiative on Facebook says the VOR is getting more exciting. Starting in 2014, it will feature one-design yachts which puts pressure on crews to make a difference. “Our race has begun,” says the Facebook posting.
Bekking and Poortman need €16 million to end that 5-yr. drought of a VOR without a Dutch flagged racer.
Yacht and Coast caught up with Bouwe Bekking and Gerd-Jan Poortman.
Q _ Dutch participation in VOR seems a natural. It has been a while. Why?
A _ Bekking (left): “We were not in the VOR2011-12 on account of the economy. And the great costs of the last campaigns. We looked for sponsors (for the last race). Our aim was to win (but) a low-cost campaign was not an option. It would have meant giving up on our competitive goals.”
Q – The VOR has moved to a one-design to cut costs. Was that a key factor to you?
A _ Poortman: “We’re always looking to participate. This is the biggest ocean race in the world. Had the Volvo organization not changed the rules, we would still been looking for funds. But, yes, the one-design is a great incentive! It has created a level playing field. It has halved the budget needed to win the VOR. That opens doors. Still, it’s still a lot of money! But a company can spread the costs across 3 fiscal years. That’s very appealing. In the last 3 years media exposure realized a return on investment of 200 to 300% per entry, not counting the B-2-B activities. For some companies, the latter is worth more than the media return. The one-design has bought us time. There are other little changes that make the race more interesting for potential sponsors (see article below). All this lets us tell a new story. Companies we contacted in the past are listening to us again.”
Q – By when do you need to see significant corporate interest for your bid to succeed?
A _ Bekking: “Our deadline is toward the end of 2013. But, of course, the faster we have some money the sooner we can start preparing.”
Q – Is that not too late to get a one-design and start training?
A – Poortman (right): “We have the people and structure to start our preparations tomorrow. So having the funds by the end of 2013 will be OK. 8 boats are now being built. As long as there are not more than 8 teams, we should get a boat fairly quickly. Construction time is 6-to-8 weeks, which is relatively fast. When there are more teams, it will be a bit later.
Q: And the participation costs?
A – Bekking: “For a serious campaign, these run to about €16 million, excluding the resell value of the boat which will be about 3 million. There will be 2 VORs with the same one-design yachts.”
Q _ Will you be the skipper?
A – Bekking: “The plan is for me to skipper the boat and run the sporting side of the project. Our aim is to have a winning entry under a Dutch flag again. We have lots of very talented sailors in the Netherlands. But we will also look abroad for the right persons for specific tasks. The team that will race the boat will be the strongest we can find. So there is not much room for pre-assigned spots.”
Q _ What do Dutch sailors bring to a VOR?
A _ Bekking: “Dutch teams and sailors are generally known for good organizational skills. And a results-driven approach in running successful projects within budget. As to sailing, we are known to be very good in strong winds. And keeping difficult situations under control.”
The Dutch had 2 boats in the VOR2005-06 (including winner ABN AMRO1) and one in the VOR2008-09. Going back to the Whitbread Round The World _ the VOR’s distinguished forerunner of the 1970s and 1980s, Dutch boats have won the grueling round the world a record 3 times.
Bekking has done half a dozen VORs. In 2005, Gerd-Jan Poortman has sailed on a Team Delta Lloyd VOR entry. The VOR is downsizing to escape the elitist trap of the America’s Cup that soaks participants to the tune of €60 to 70 million. The VOR hopes to curb costs through a one-design 65-ft yacht. Eight _ designed by Farr Yachts Design of the US _ are being built by a consortium of yards in Britain, France, Italy and Switzerland for the next 2 VORs. The one-design means participants will no longer spend fortunes on design and technologies. A ready-to-roar VOR-65 will cost €4.5 million and carry a crew of 8 (10 if it’s an all-women boat).
The VOR2014-15 Notice of Race underlines a commitment to open the race to more comers. It includes the following conditions:
– Each team will be able to name 1 extra crew member for the in-port races, subject to certain restrictions
– The standard crew size will be 8 plus 1 non-sailing multimedia reporter
– Mixed teams (with no more than five male sailors) will be able to race with 9 plus 1 non-sailing multimedia reporter
– All women’s teams will be able to race with 11 sailors plus 1 non-sailing multimedia reporter
– Each team will again have to race with 2 Under-30s crew members at all times
– There will be a new, fully competitive warm-up race, which carries no race points but must be contested by full racing crews