Interview with Neil McDonald, skipper of Assa Abloy, winner of the Sydney Hobart during the pitstop at Hobart, before the continuation of Leg Three of the Volvo Ocean Race to Auckland, New Zealand.
Q: Neal, line-honours in the Sydney-Hobart Race, how does it feel?
A: Oh, terrific, fantastic. It's one of THE races I've always enjoyed doing and to get over the line first is a real bonus.
Q: How hard was it for you?
A: A walk in the park. It was very frustrating and more light wind than heavy. We had one heavy gust with the water spout that we didn't come out too well on, other than that it was pretty light.
Q: A lot of boats got hit by that waterspout; so tell us about your experience.
A: I think it was three boats and we ended up right in the middle of it. To begin with, I wasn't too concerned as I had seen it before and it didn't look too bad, but it got kind of more and more intense. And the bottom side of it seemed to be exploding and I thought, crikey, here we go, and we took all the sails down. That probably lost us half an hour on the boats around us who didn't get affected by it, but I think in retrospect and considering that we have a thousand and a half miles to go, it was the right thing to do.
Q: What was the waterspout like?
A: I was pretty scared. Not a nice thing to see. We were heading right for the middle of it. We in fact altered course to try and to avoid it. Illbruck was near us at the time and they did a slightly better job at getting out of its way. It turned straight towards us. I assumed it would go downwind and it didn't, it came across the wind and we were in the middle of it. In fact, we got a video of the wind speed. It was like wind from 20 to 63 knots just like that. I didn't know when it was going to stop - it could have carried on. If we'd had the sails up, there was every chance that we would have had them just all whipped off.
Q: Any damage?
A: No, not really.
Q: Neal, how did you get in front of the pack last night?
A: Well, as my mum would say, it's better to be lucky than good. I have to say it was a bit of luck involved in it. Coming into Storm Bay around Tasman Island, we were all bunched together it was light. It was actually quite good fun. At one stage we were first, at one stage we were last, there were place changes every three or four minutes. And later on, it got all light. Chris Larson was steering and took a little risk, went away from some of the guys around us and never looked back.
Q: Did he go offshore, was that the benefit?
A: Yes, we went offshore and we paid quite heavily to get it. As it happened, we only needed to be 200 yards from the other boats and that transported us to the new wind.
Q: So the race restarted in Storm Bay?
A: Yes, it restarted a few times for us. But sure, we were all inside of each other in Storm Bay.
Q: Coming down the New South Wales coast, it was pretty rugged. How did you handle that?
A: It wasn't that bad.
Q: A lot of people didn't expect the Volvo 60s to beat a maxi in this race. Are you surprised to be here first?
A: A little bit, yes. They were right next to us in the waterspout, which wouldn't help them, but we recovered a bit better. I mean these boats are pretty robust; they're built for that sort of stuff.
Q: And a very frustrating start for you?
A: Yeah. These things happen. You couldn't really get annoyed about it - it's one of these things. News Corp played it beautifully, did a blinder. We all would like to have done that. Well, and we were behind for quite a long way for some time as you can see. But we made it up, stayed cool and got it all back.
Q: Neal, are you looking forward to the next stage? Do you think you can win this leg from here into Auckland?
A: I think we've got as much a chance as anyone else to win it.
Q: How tough is the competition?
A: Pretty intense. I mean, every minute, every hour, you are fully aware of people. We can see boats all the way round. It's just like another leg for us, but it's not the norm in offshore racing to be next to people within five boat lengths after sailing to or three days.
Q: How tough was it over the last 24 hours, did everyone get the normal amount of sleep or did you work harder to get in front?
A: We did pretty well. It might sound lazy, but we kept to our pretty strict watch system and we feel pretty rested.
Q: Were you worried at all coming up the river with Nicorette behind you?
A: Yeah, I have to say it, of course. As it happened, the wind filled in and it was an easy thing to stay ahead, but things could have changed really easily.
Q: What does it mean to you to come in here first?
A: Oh, for me personally, it's fantastic. I love the Hobart and I love the place. I think it's important for our sponsors, it's a great race and it's great to be ahead.