When the Volvo fleet departs from Cape Town on Saturday for the start of Leg 2, Roy Heiner, the 42-year-old co-skipper and co-founder of the Assa Abloy Challenge may be sitting somewhere atop Cape Towns Table Mountain, watching over the fleet and pondering what life on board will be like without him. Over the weekend, Assa Abloy project director Richard Brisius said that change was necessary in the leadership of the boat, and that change was the removal of Heiner from the afterguard. Neal McDonald, 39, of Great Britain, will ascend from his role as a helmsman and trimmer to take Heiners place for Leg 2.
Heiner, who led Brunel/Sunergy to third in the last edition of this race, said he was “highly disappointed” to be dislodged from the project he started several years ago before teaming up with Mark Rudiger. “Its not the dream scenario you go on with,” said Heiner. “I guess tomorrow the sun comes up again and life goes on. I will go and find a tall mountain and reflect on it all.”
In his statement, Brisius pointed out that it wasnt the tactical turn of events in the Southern Atlantic that precipitated Heiners firing, but rather a need to improve onboard management. “Following analysis of the Assa Abloy Racing Team, looking at Leg One and at future legs we have come to the conclusion–bearing in mind that the decision of the team has always been to make a successful project–that we needed to change the leadership onboard the boat. Roy has been a key person in the crucial build-up period of the campaign and it makes it really sad that he will not be associated with the campaign. We feel certain that the approach that we need now is not the one we had onboard.”
Only a week ago, as Assa finished a disappointing fifth, there were no indications that Heiners departure was imminent. If he knew of it himself, he was incredibly successful at masking his fate. At a press conference immediately following Assas finishing ceremony Heiner said, “Everyone kept their spirits up. We stayed together through this (the first leg) and because of that we know we are stronger for the next leg. We will be pushing the boat all the way.”
When asked whether there would be any crew changes for the next leg, he said, “You do not change a winning team.”
Co-skipper Mark Rudiger, who has always praised his Dutch counterpart, said, “I have seen more than anybody the work that Roy has done–late nights and a lot of sacrifices. Im going to miss the guyit wasnt my first choice, but if its the choice of the management of the team, and its the best way to win the race, then Im all supportive of it. So we all go on from here and like Roy said, the sun will come up tomorrow and we will all live to win more races and sail more regattas, and I hope I get the chance to sail with Roy again.”
Heiners replacement Neal McDonald, who sailed with Lawrie Smith on Silk Cut in the last race and with Grant Dalton on Club Med for The Race, has never maintained such a leadership role, but the respect he carries from his peers will serve him well on the upcoming leg to Sydney. “Its a difficult transition for me to make,” he said. “Id be lying if I said I wasnt nervous about it. Im very proud and pleased to have the confidence installed in me by our management team.”
The shuffle at the top of the Assa crew closed out a busy week for the challenge, which also put itself in the middle of a dubious protest after lodging one against John Kosteckis illbruck Challenge. Assas protest implied that illbruck had accessed an illegal website during Leg 1, but withdrew the protest on Thursday after illbruck proved that the site was publicly accessible, as required by the race rules.
On Friday, illbruck also walked away clean from a highly contentious protest, one filed by the race committee, stating that illbruck had violated Volvo 60 class rules when it modified the boats propeller strut by fairing it and adding a kelp cutting device. The International Jury upheld the protest, levied a £1,000 fine, and did not dock them any points.
In a statement issued on Friday, race director Michael Woods said, “V.O60 rule interpretation number 53 states that a separate weed cutter would not be contrary to the rules, although an integral weed cutter is clearly a modification Additionally, the device as installed on illbruck was likely, if anything, to create more drag. Whilst illbruck was in contravention of the rule, an oversight by a measurer did occur. illbruck also noted that the device would increase drag and called the issue an administrative oversight and maintained that it should not result in a points penalty.”
illbruck Challenge CEO Glenn Bourke said, “We have been penalized £1000 for infringing V.O.60 class rule 5.4.2 and we believe the case is over and we are happy with that. The jury have instructed us to take the stern drive back to its original configuration which is quite easy for us and we will be doing that pretty much straight away.”