Having made his Volvo Ocean Race debut in the 2014-15 edition, Dongfeng's Jack Bouttell has returned and his competing in his second race aged just 26.
Born in Australia and raised in England before being educated in the French Figaro single-handed offshore sailing scene, he is the bowman onboard Charles Caudrelier's Chinese flagged Volvo Ocean 65.
Prior to the start of the Leg 3 from Cape Town to Melbourne, he told us of his passion for the Volvo Ocean Race and for the Vendée Globe, the race in which he hopes to take compete in 2020.
What have you taken away from the second leg of the Volvo Ocean Race between Lisbon and Cape Town?
It was a tough leg, during which we learned a great deal about the fleet. We sailed very well as we were leading the race for 10 days before ultimately putting in a gybe slightly too late, which caused us to get caught in a patch of light air and cost us the top spot. It was a very hard moment for Charles and Pascal, because we lost 60-70 miles, but we managed to find some good speed to get back into the game and finish second. I never imagined we’d be able to pull off a move like that and we learned a lot about the team’s mindset as a result.
So how do you feel in this team?
It’s very interesting because compared with last time, where the team had a strong French contingent mixed with a few Chinese sailors, we now have a much greater mix with two Kiwis, a Dutch sailor, and me, an Anglo-Australian, and a lot of experience.
In contrast to the last edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, Dongfeng Race Team started among the pre-race favourites. Can you sense that?
Yes, it’s a real challenge for Charles, who has to shoulder the pressure. We were lucky enough to be the first project to get going, which enabled us to spend a fair amount of time sailing in Lisbon and Lorient. Other than that, I’m not sure that it adds any additional pressure. Sometimes you’re much more relaxed when you know that you’ve had the time to do things properly during the preparation. Our primary aim is to remain consistent and secure a podium finish each time, which we’ve managed so far. After that, it’s still a very long race and the last legs are often the most important. As the boats and the teams tire, you have to keep up your energy levels for the end of the race.
What’s your mindset as you tackle Leg 3 to Australia, your native country?
It will be very tough, especially as the stopover in Melbourne will be very short, 5-6 days, and we’re not allowed to make any significant changes to the boat, with just two members of the shore crew permitted to work on her. Following on from that, there will be another 6,000-mile leg to Hong Kong, so we can’t afford to have any issues with gear on this leg. For me, this will be my first time in the Indian Ocean and the deep south. I’m eager to get amongst it. I know that as the bowman I’m going to be very wet a lot of the time. I’ve talked a great deal with Stu Bannatyne and Daryl Wislang to make sure I’m as safe as possible when I’m up at the front.
As a sailor who was raised in England, how valuable is the Volvo Ocean Race to you?
Quite simply it’s the best crewed race in the world, the very top. I remember as a kid being particularly struck by a documentary called “Ocean Worries”, which told the story of the 2001-2002 edition with boats like Illbruck and Assa Abloy. I viewed the race as more of an extraordinary adventure rather than a competition, and that’s also why I’m fascinated by the Vendée Globe, in which I hope to compete in 2020. This experience in the Volvo Ocean Race will really help me in terms of project management, logistics, as well as navigation and competition, because it’s a race where you’re flat out for nine months in the battle to win it.
Tell us about your fascination for the Vendée Globe...
In my younger days, I saw a documentary about the race and thought it was an extraordinary adventure. I didn’t understand how a man or a woman could circumnavigate the globe singlehanded. To my mind, it's like climbing Everest. Little by little, as I became a professional sailor myself, I told myself that it was possible, even though very few people in the world manage it. It was a remarkable feeling to go and watch the race start.
Is that why you came to sail in France, on the Figaro circuit?
Yes, I chatted with a few people in England, like Mike Golding, Charles Darbyshire and Mark Turner, who told me I should go over to France and learn French to see how things played out. I was lucky enough to be able to do three seasons in the Figaro with Artemis Offshore Academy, which enabled me to discover this universe.
And to get some solid results in the Solitaire…
For my first season, I finished top rookie, the second was less positive as I ranked 24th, and the third I made it into the Top 10 in tenth place, which was my aim, despite having only limited means to prepare.
And now you’re aiming for the Vendée Globe, from 2020?
Yes. In fact, I’ve just bought the old Spirit of Canada, which the late Derek Hatfield raced in the Vendée Globe in 2008. I’m going to bring her back from Canada next summer once the Volvo Ocean Race is over, and I hope to find partners to refit her and make some improvements. Between Volvo legs, I’m trying to put together a budget and I’m just at the start of the project.
How much are you hoping to raise?
If I can find between one and two million Euros, that would be good. It would enable me to make a few modifications to the boat, do the Transat Jacques Vabre in 2019, then the return transatlantic, and if I find the money quickly, why not the Route du Rhum and the Barcelona World Race? One thing for sure is that this Volvo Ocean Race is teaching me a lot and that’s set to continue as I’m doing all the legs if everything goes to plan. It’s a massive learning curve on how to sail and I’m going to discover the Southern Ocean along the way.