Volvo Crews Prepare For A "Full-On" Leg

Can illbruck hold off the hard-charging Assa Abloy, which has proved to be very strong on the short legs?

Dave Reed

As hordes of spectators weave through the Volvo Ocean Race village in Gothenburg, Sweden today, crews of the eight teams are busy combing through their boats, scuttling every ounce of excess weight. The forecast for the race’s final 250-mile leg to Kiel, Germany, which starts at 2 p.m. local time on Saturday, is for light air and lots of current. That forecast, and the narrow stretch of waterway in which they must sail, has navigators and weather forecasters pouring over weather and tide models, coming up with the answer to the all-important question: Which sails to take? Complicating matters for the navigators is the fact that the race committee intends shorten or lengthen the course midway to ensure the fleet finishes something afternoon, but before evening, on Sunday.

Once the race is underway there will be two battles for fans to follow--illbruck’s defense of its lead against Mark Rudiger and Neal McDonald’s Assa Abloy challenge, and the three-boat tango for third between Grant Dalton’s Amer Sports One, Jez Fanstone’s Team Tyco, and Ross Field’s Team News Corp--all three tied on points.

For Assa, 5 points behind illbruck in the overall standings, winning this race would be a coup, to say the least; illbruck has been the overall race leader since winning Leg 1 nine months ago. Assa Abloy’s tactician Chris Larson, who has helped his team win all of the race’s inshore legs thus far, says there are two possible combinations for them to steal illbruck’s fire: They must first win the leg and hope that illbruck finishes sixth or worse. With this combination, Assa would win on the tiebreaker. If Assa finishes second and illbruck seventh or last, Assa gets the win. Assa trained in the island-strewn waters off Gothenburg, and Rudiger says that will give them a distinct advantage. McDonald said the light air would suit his team just right. "We’re just going to go in and sail like we have been, and sail hard. When the opportunities come our way we’re going to take them."

As far as illbruck is concerned, the game plan is simple; they must either win the leg or never let Assa out of their sight. "I know one thing for sure," says Kostecki. "We’ll be fast. We’ve always been quite fast, which is a nice thing to have up your sleeve. One thing is we’ve done a good job managing our sail program, so we have some great light air sails--fresh sails. I’m not sure any of our competitors have a fresh inventory, but we have brand new sails for this leg. Yes, light-air downwind sailing has been our weakness, but over the last three legs we’ve really worked on it. In the Miami to Baltimore leg we actually opened up our lead at times when it was light-air downwind conditions. So I don’t think it’s a weakness for us anymore. We’ve put sails in some of the gaps that other teams seem to have an advantage over us.

"We’ve measured in a real light-air sail for less than 4 knots--a masthead sail. We expect to be reaching early on in the leg, and in light-air reaching conditions we have a huge advantage. People have been trying to copy us, but it’s really hard to copy sails--it’s impossible. You can get the idea, but you can’t copy shape. With one particular sail, we had six or seven versions of it before we started racing. We’ve since had to re-cut it and rebuild it using different fabrics. I know everyone’s been trying to copy it, but they’ve been blowing their sails out because they’ve got either the wrong fabric or the wrong shape."

While the top-two teams tangle, they’ll be trying to keep themselves out of the mix of the other boats--primarily Amer, Tyco, and News Corp. To beef up their afterguard, News Corp has called in tactician Peter Isler from the sidelines. Amer One currently stands on top of the threesome, but thus far, their Frers design has been lethal in only heavy upwind conditions. Unfortunately for Dalton, that’s not the forecast. "You can’t cover two boats; if you do that you’ll lose one of them," he said at today’s skipper’s briefing. "All we can do is sail as hard as we can; it’s not rocket science."

In light of the forecast, Amer intends to sail with a full crew, but Tyco will swap out Mike Quilter and Guy Salter for Damian Foxall. News Corp will sail with 10--off the boat are Campbell Field, Nigel King, and Jeremy Robinson.

Gurra Krantz’s SEB, Knut Frostad’s Djuice Dragons, and Lisa McDonald’s Amer Sports Too, all well out of the running for a podium finish, will be doing everything they can to close out their challenges with respectable finishes. Krantz has added Gavin Brady to the afterguard, Djuice will sail the leg with only nine crew (leaving ashore Stig Westergaard, Erle Williams, and Aarve Roass. Frostad’s lead navigator Jean-Yves Bernot will be back at the nav station.