Skipper Neal McDonald looks ahead.
For leg five of the Volvo Ocean Race, 4450 nautical miles from Rio de Janeiro to Miami, Assa Abloy Racing Team had planned only one crew change, bringing back Chris Larson from the USA, who sailed with the team on their victorious leg from Sydney to Auckland, winning the CYCA Sydney Hobart race en route. But now, in an unscheduled move, they must replace their Spanish crewmember, Guillermo Altadill, who returns home for family reasons. In his place, the team has brought on Mikey Howard, or Big Mike as many people know him. Skipper Neal McDonald says Big Mike is a very experienced sailor, as well as being good fun and very fit, and he is confident that Mikey will be a great addition to the team.
"Chris Larson was not able to do the last leg, he had commitments in America for sailing" explains McDonald. "His return is much looked forward to. Guillermo has had more family problems. He really hasn't had an easy race and certainly for this leg he won't be able to come with us, which means we have to do an unplanned change."
McDonald will miss the wealth of experience provided by Guillermo. "He was a huge asset for us in the Southern Ocean this time, he's done an awful lot of sailing down there and I've been down there with him myself a few times. He's been with the campaign a long time, he's helped develop the sail programme. He's a good guy so he will be sadly missed. We are keeping an open mind and hoping that things will allow him to come back."
But, Big Mike, has plenty of skills to offer. McDonald says he will bring new thoughts on crew maneuvers, new blood and more power. Mikey has done a lot of big boat racing and sailed onboard Sayonara in the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race where they did so well to get there in such good shape. Although it was an unplanned crew change, McDonald is confident that it will go very smoothly.
Jason Carrington will also be back onboard Assa Abloy for this leg after making a good recovery from the illness that left him unconscious and worried during leg three from Sydney to Auckland.
"It's never nice to be sick on a boat and, when it happens quite quickly like that, it is a bit of a shock" explains a now fit and healthy Carrington. "It was very much brought on by being pretty stressed in Sydney, trying to get the boat together and leaving there tired. Then the Hobart was tough and we had the three-hour pit-stop and then were off again, which made it extremely tough. About 24 hours after Hobart I felt very run down and I started feeling a bit giddy. I told the guys I wasn't feeling right and then, about 10 minutes after that, I collapsed and went into shock, shaking and passing out and coming around." Of course getting sick is always horrible, but being ill on a race boat is unimaginable as well as frightening. "The worse thing about it" says Carrington "is that the watch system breaks down and you feel so hopeless. You feel you are letting everybody down and there's nothing you can do about it. Mickey Joubert, the other bowman, for example, had to do every single sail change, so he was doing double shifts the whole time. Although he could go down below, he was fully kitted-up, lying in the bilge ready to go, and I was in his bunk and it was horrible - it just felt terrible. That was the worst part of it." Carrington is now in Rio, running every day and in great shape. His team is pleased to have him back.
Neal McDonald is the man in charge, onboard Assa Abloy. McDonald, whose wife Lisa is the skipper of the all female team sailing Amer Sports Too, is the British sailor who took over as skipper of Assa Abloy from Roy Heiner in Cape Town. He has now completed three legs of the Volvo Ocean Race as the man in charge. He says he's enjoying parts of his new role, but like any job, there are good and bad aspects. "It's pretty intense" he explains. "It's difficult, you can't just relax and just say 'this is fantastic, what a lovely day's sailing' - it's never really quite like that. The intensity of the competition works both ways. Sometimes it is thrilling and fantastic, and some times it is downright disappointing. Of course those two feelings are pretty directly proportional to where you are in the fleet at the time".
Assa Abloy will start leg five to Miami on Saturday feeling confident and strong and definitely looking for another place on the podium.