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16 March 2006, 10:00 am
Ericsson Crew Responds To Skipper Change
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Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Many of Ericsson's key crew members have spoken of their surprise at the drastic steps taken by the team in demoting Neal MCDONALD (GBR) from skipper to watch captain in favour of John KOSTECKI (AUS).
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But while the crew said they did not expect the action taken by the team's management to be so extreme, they believe the winning skipper of the 2001-2002 Volvo Ocean Race KOSTECKI's involvement in the next offshore leg five from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Baltimore, USA will have a positive effect on their performance.

The decision, based on 48 hours of discussions, came after the team finished a disappointing fifth into Rio de Janeiro, leaving Ericsson bottom of the leaderboard (with the exception of ING Real Estate Brunel ) with five legs remaining.

Now the Ericsson Volvo Open 70 houses the first and second placed skippers from the last race and MCDONALD is back on deck sailing the boat, an area where is considered the best in the business. He has now taken some time off, and understandably is disappointed. What do three of the crew's vital figures think?

Tim POWELL (GBR), helmsman

'We all sat down and we all agreed we needed to do something and hopefully this is a positive move and we will be a stronger team for it. John will bring a different set of skills onto the boat and a different perspective.

'I didn't expect a decision as drastic as that, but if you take away the titles [skipper and watch captain], the actual move itself is probably a little bit of what we were expecting. It's a big move to change skippers, it's quite a drastic action and we will see. The end result of having John on the boat is a correct thing, and having Neal as a watch leader is great.'

Would he rather Neal was his skipper? 'My personal choices don't come into it.'

Steve HAYLES (GBR), navigator

'I really wish it hadn't come to this.

'All of us have to put our hands up for under performing, and we all now have to support the team. We have to put aside our personal views, everybody has had a chance to air their views; it's been very well structured. Neal has behaved in an exemplary manner. His decision to stay and help the team is beyond compare. I don't anybody in this fleet would have been able to take that decision. He truly is a world class skipper. As skipper he faces the blame from outside. To stay involved and give all his support, suddenly we have the first and second place skippers from the last race on the same boat.

'In my mind Neal is the best watch captain in the fleet. Neal is an awesome all round sailing talent. He has won everything at every level. As an all rounder no one really touches him, and now we have him in that position on the boat where he will be of great use. He will now be the interface with me and JK [KOSTECKI], implementing the strategies. That's a positive move.

'It's yet to be seen [how well he will work with KOSTECKI]. I have done a lot more sailing with Neal than I have with John, but I worked reasonably closely with John at Oracle. It's going to be a different dynamic.

'John and I have to sit down this week and get to speed with each other pretty quickly. I've had to cancel a holiday and we have to work out what elements we need to keep the same. It's a big ask because these relationships take time to put together and John and I haven't been offshore together before. In two weeks we need to get to a point where we have covered all the bases.

'You have to look at all the things we needed to change. For me, if the rules had allowed it, there are design things with the boat that needed changes. Likewise the sails. The last third was the people.

'I feel we've let Neal down. I feel that very strongly. I can't speak for everyone, but it's been extremely hard few days emotionally. He has given us a platform to do well, but I feel we have let him down.

'His decision to stay on the boat shows him to be not only an exceptional sailor, but an exceptional person. Now we need to pull together and improve.

'I didn't expect it. Quite a few of our guys have been airing different views about what has been the issue, and I stayed quiet, but I'm happy to talk about it now. I think more moderate changes should have been made earlier. Along with others, I'd say crew changes. I don't doubt anyone's skill, effort or ability, but the mix of personalities. It wasn't working. It's a bigger measure than I thought the team would do, but whether they are right or wrong it's hard to decide. I support John, I categorically support Neal. But we won't suddenly start winning every leg.'

Jason CARRINGTON (GBR), boat builder and crewmember

'We had to something. Obviously John is very experienced and will bring a lot of intensity to the project. I'm very happy we still have Neal on the boat. I would have found it very difficult on the boat if Neal had gone, I'm a big fan of his.

'We are all responsible, but because Neal is top of the pile this has happened. All credit to him that he is willing to stay on the boat. It tells a lot about his character.

'Neal can probably deal with it. He is incredibly humble and doesn't have an ego. Maybe that is part of the problem, I don't know.

'I don't think the boat is completely exonerated. Just because Neal has gone it doesn't make it his fault we have had problems.

'I don't think I expected the decisions, but you only have to look at Atlant [the management group] and their past history of changing things if they are not right. But we are not in a position to change little things, obviously something pretty major needed to happen. It's a positive thing in that we have an extremely good tactical sailor on the boat, which perhaps we missed a little bit, and we are getting Neal on the deck where, in my opinion without doubt, you couldn't get anyone better. In many ways we have gained. Perhaps Steve will benefit more from John's intensity.

'Everyone loves Neal, but he is big enough and ugly enough to make the move. We need John's intensity and Neal's sheer ability. It could work out very well, like in the In Port races.'

Overall Leaderboard
(Up to and including Leg Four - not yet ratified)
Pos Team Nation Skipper Pts
1 ABN AMRO ONE NED Mike SANDERSON (NZL) 49
2 ABN AMRO TWO NED Sebastien JOSSE (FRA) 35
3 Pirates of the Caribbean USA Paul CAYARD (USA) 30.5
4 movistar ESP Bouwe BEKKING (NED) 28
5 Brasil 1 BRA Torben GRAEL (BRA) 26.5
6 Ericsson Racing Team SWE John KOSTECKI (USA) 21
7 ING Real Estate Brunel AUS Grant WHARINGTON (AUS) 11.5

For a complete list of all the news about the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006 CLICK HERE.

Riath AL-SAMARRAI (As Amended By ISAF). Image, The Ericsson crew have been responding to the news of their new skipper:© Rick TOMLINSON
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