Following a mediocre result and some obvious internal disagreements the ASSA ABLOY team yesterday announced the replacement of Roy Heiner (NED) as skipper.
Neal McDonald (GBR), who joined the team less than two months before the start, will take over the role of skipper with Mark Rudiger remaining as co-skipper/navigator.
Richard Brisius, Team Project Director, explained that the decision, which was made yesterday, did not come as a result of the team's performance on this first leg of the Volvo Ocean race. `Bearing in mind the vision of the team to make a successful project we have come to the conclusion that we need to take a different approach to the management of the boat.'
In an almost unprecedented move Heiner was in attendance at the Press Conference. Evidently shell shocked, a pale looking Heiner remained composed, hinting that he had an inclination such a decision was possible even during the leg. When questioned he hesitated before saying, `I guess there is a little bit of truth in that. It's one of the options that there are to improve matters in sailing. However, I did not see them coming in Cape Town.'
Some could have expected Rudiger, who before the race attempted to organise his own campaign, to assume the role of skipper. This was not to be. `I'm going to miss the guy,' said a distressed Rudiger, close to tears. `It wasn't my first choice, but it's the choice of the management and the team,' hinting that he was not entirely agreeable to this decision.
This decision, coming only eight days before the start of leg two, will be Neal McDonald's first time skippering an Ocean Racer. McDonald was understandably happy with this decision on a personal level. `I am very pleased that I have the confidence of our sponsors and management team. I'm looking forward to the next leg.' However, McDonald said that he was sorry to see Heiner go as he had enjoyed the time they had spent sailing together.
Where the decision came from was never revealed, however there is speculation that some of the crew had lost respect for Heiner during this leg. Whether race veteran Magnus Olsson, now confirmed as part of the team for leg two and the only significant crewmember not present at the conference, had some influence over the decision is not known.
The question now surrounding the ASSA ABLOY syndicate is whether this is a warning for things to come. Rudiger, obviously upset with the decision, will now be working closely with a different skipper who, although experienced, has never been at a similar level of authority. Rudiger's clear uncertainty about the decision leaves a level of instability in the team's management structure.
Neal McDonald, who appeared apprehensive, will now have the added pressure of performing for a syndicate that has already shown that, just one leg into this nine-stage marathon, that they will not hesitate to make changes if they feel it is necessary.
With Heiner now out there remains a position to be filled on the team. Though McDonald does have a level of experience with short-course tactics, it is unlikely he has the ability required to fulfill the role of second-navigator that so many of ASSA ABLOY's competitors have. The new crewmember, to be announced early next week, is more than likely to fill the role of co-navigator.
The decision will no doubt unsettle the crew. However, their wealth of talent and respect for McDonald, will give the team a good chance of a quick recovery and success on future legs. `I'm hoping that I can create an environment to bring out the talent that we have on board. I don't think that there will be any changes on board. I'm hoping that I'm able to bring out the best in them,' explained an optimistic McDonald.
McDonald's promotion will go down in history as not only does it come as a result of Heiner's dismissal but also because for the first time two boats in this race will be skippered by husband and wife.