Feeling the heat
In previous Whitbreads there were always some tail-end Charlies who could be written off through having a lack of budget, a lack of crew experience or a lack of boat speed and they took the pressure off those full-on campaigns who should have been doing better. This time round with just eight boats there is nowhere to hide and the pressure is on those in the mid-to-lower echelons all the more because with $15-22 million budgets riding on this race, they cannot afford to lose.
Ironically it is two of the biggest budget syndicates who are flagging in the Volvo Ocean Race results table at present.
All is not well on board Gunnar Krantz's Team SEB. The latest high profile departure from the Swedish team is 30 year old British round the world race veteran Matt Humphries (right) for the old excuse of 'personal reasons'. Humphries' job title on board was officially watch captain, but his role was more a floating one, being part of the on board brains trust working with Krantz and navigator Marcel van Triest.
This is the fourth round the world race for Humphries and his second with Krantz - he sailed on Swedish Match for all but the first leg four years ago and their association has been tight since, with Humphries even moving to Sweden. "I have been working together with Gurra Krantz for a long time now but we have different views on the future. Therefore I have decided to leave the team," he commented.
Humphries' leaving comes after the departure during the Sydney stopover of another SEB watch leader David Rolfe, who was replaced by American Tony Rey. At the time Rolfe said that the team "had not developed in a comfortable way for me".
What will happen to djuice? Prior to the start of the race skipper Knut Frostad said that he had learned from his highly rated underperformer Innovation Kvaerner, which had suffered from excessive crew changes during the Whitbread Round the World Race four years ago. But lying in seventh place overall after three legs can Frostad really stick to his guns?
djuice's only crew changes to date have been in the navigation department. After leg one they lost co-navigator Wouter Verbraak who had been working closely with French legend Jean-Yves Bernot. In Sydney the tactical role occupied by Terry Hutchinson was taken over by the highly experienced Kiwi Erle Williams - yet the dragons still finished a dismal sixth on the last leg after they left a gybe too late while crossing the Tasman Sea and were left for dead.
Clearly there are still some problems in the decision making process on board djuice, but this incident does show how close the competition is in the Volvo Ocean Race - one error or one significant breakage and you are down the pan in this fleet.
Finally there is the thorny issue of Lisa McDonald's Amer Sports Too which has come a resounding last in the three legs to date, although to have had the tenacity to finish the last leg with their rudder and rig intact deserves praise. If their current form is any indication it is likely that the girls will come last again on the next leg through the Southern Ocean to Rio, as the Southern Ocean legs are the ones most physically taxing on the crew with the stack and the sails, spares and gear below needing to be lugged up to weather after every tack or gybe in the freezing cold and wet.
McDonald is in the process of making two crew changes and the more significant of these will be that of Australian navigator Genevieve White, who seems to have been out of her depth since she was thrust into the shoes of the departed Marie-Claude Heys shortly before the start of the race in Southampton. If McDonald is sensible White's replacement will be Adrienne Cahalan, the much respected (and available) navigator who sailed with Dawn Riley on Heineken eight years ago and who is considered one of the most experienced lady ocean racing navigators in the business. Hopefully then, McDonald and her team will do what all Volvo Ocean Race pundits have been hoping and kick some of the boy's butts. The announcement of the two replacements is expected shortly.
A positive side of all this is that more and more talent is being drawn into the Volvo Ocean Race to help ailing teams and this can only add to the competitive nature of the event. djuice's tacticians Terry Hutchinson and Erle Williams are world class sailors in every respect and one wonders if Matt Humphries is to be replaced by someone with a similar America's Cup pedigree. Clearly the insertion of Chris Larson into Assa's afterguard made a profound difference to her performance on this last leg. One wonders if those astern won't follow suit?
See page two for the current VOR overall standings