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12 October 2005, 01:37 pm
The Calm Before The Storm
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Volvo Ocean Race 2005-2006

Only one month is left before the Volvo Ocean Race fleet departs from Galicia, Spain for leg one to Cape Town, South Africa and just three weeks before the first in-port race! Skipper for Swedish team Ericsson Racing Team Neal MCDONALD (GBR) talks about the many bridges crossed and the hills still to climb.

Just one month to go before the start of the Volvo Ocean Race 2005-06 - what is your current state of mind?

'Right now, it's the calm before the storm. The last few weeks before the start are always hectic and this time will be worse than previous starts with the addition of the in port racing and the new class of boat.

'Overall I feel comfortable that we have got everything we need done, but it's kind of scary to think that in one month's time we will be starting the first leg. There are a lot of decisions that we have made so far and we won't really know the full extent of their effect until some way into the race. We hope that we have got them right!'

How is the team bearing up?

'I think we are all looking forward to getting started now. The shore crew has taken a lot of pride in its work and we've got a boat that looks in terrific shape.

'It's difficult to appreciate just how much else is going on in parallel with the boat work; there is a massive amount of planning and logistics that is going on at the same time. Accommodation in eight different countries around the world, travel for the shore team and race crew families, sending containers with tools and spares to various ports around the world, mountains of paper work, crew medicals - you name it. All these hidden extras have to be dealt with by our own in-house logistic team - it's not just our boat builders who have been flat out for the past few months.'

What are the big unknowns for this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race?

'There is so much that we don't know about the boats. In the previous races we have known a huge amount. If you ask our Technical Director, Magnus OLSSON about the VO 60, he has had twelve years experience with them, whereas we have had just over twelve weeks to learn the idiosyncrasies of this current class.

'We have no real idea how the boats will compare to one another until the race begins or which boats will be fast in which conditions. All the teams have made their own decisions on how best to configure their boat and to optimize the various systems. It is very rare in a campaign like this for none of the boats to have lined up against each other before the start - it certainly makes it all the more exciting.

'The in-port races themselves are an unknown. It will also be tough to finish a leg knowing that in a short space of time we've got to do an inshore race. It will be like finishing a really long rally race then doing a formula one race in between!'

How physical are these boats compared to the VO 60's?

'The Volvo Open 70's are physically more demanding boats and technically more complicated, and there will be some new skills required to get the best out of them. We have a whole new rule book to learn as to how hard to push these boats and how hard to push the people that are sailing them. The majority of the attraction for taking part in a race like this is that we are racing against other competitors that are in a similar situation. An added bonus for this race is the fact that we will be racing a new exciting class and effectively breaking new ground in terms of fully crewed offshore sailing.'

What are your main tasks before the start?

'To make sure that we haven't left any stones unturned, that we are ready for this unbelievable adventure and more importantly to keep an eye on the big picture. Clearly the immediate concern is to do well in the first in-port race but the overall picture is the thing we need to keep a handle on - what's going to happen several months down the line. It is all about prioritizing and making the best of the situation with the money, time and manpower that we have.'

Do you feel Ericsson is ready or is there a lot of space for improvement throughout the race?

'On the one hand, there is a huge limit on improvement because technically the teams are not allowed to change anything other than the sails during the race. On the other hand, our understanding of the boat and how to get the best out of her will improve a lot and we have to make sure that our learning curve is steeper than our competitors.'

What have you achieved so far?

'We have achieved a huge amount in the past three months since the boat hit the water. We've sailed over 5,000 miles, tried out numerous sails, completed our 2,000 mile qualifier for the Volvo Ocean Race, optimized lots of systems, and most importantly made our sail choice for the first leg.'

A month before the start, what do you think will make the difference between the teams?

'The make up of the teams themselves is paramount to success. It's a long race and a huge amount of the success will come down to the people involved, not just the race crew but also the shore crew. Selecting the right crew is the biggest job of all - a professional crew that will respect each other and will persevere - all values that are core to our sponsor Ericsson. The crew I have been fortunate enough to gather together is simply superb, with so much talent and experience. The sailing crew alone has 30 round the world yacht races to its credit, and I am hoping that this experience will pull us through.'

Annabel Merrison. Image:© Ericsson Racing Team
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