Bring on the heavyweights
From left to right: Emma Richards, Lisa McDonald and Miranda Merron
Lisa McDonald must be feeling a warm glow this morning with the news that two of her Hamble chums, who she sailed with while she was on Tracy Edwards' Royal & SunAlliance, will be joining her on board Amer Sports Too for the next leg.
Former Pindar team mates Emma Richards, 27 will be on board as a trimmer/helmsman while Merron, 32 will be taking over the navigator's duties from Genevieve White.
Richards and Merron are well known to these pages and following their Jules Verne attempt teamed up to race double handed in events such as the Transat Jacques Vabre in 1999 and the Figaro class' Transat AG2R. In both events the boat they were sailing experienced forestay problems. However Richards sailed a very successful Europe 1 New Man STAR in 2000, winning the Open 50 monohull class ahead of the potentially faster Magellan Alpha sailed by Alex Thomson.
The girls split at the beginning of 2001 remarkably at a time when Pindar, Richards' Scarborough-based printing company sponsor were considering forking out for a new Open 60 for them. There were no personal issues, merely that Richards and Merron wanted to try different forms of sailing.
Richards became interested in the fast and furious nature of the French 60ft trimaran circuit and spent many months last year sailing with Magnus Olsson (now on Assa Abloy) in the Oops Cup! circuit around Scandinavia. She went on to charter one of the Oops Cup! boats and campaign it in the recent two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre.
Meanwhile Merron, after years of swearing she never wanted to race singlehanded did an about turn on her views on this at the end of the last Vendee Globe and is now a firm entry in the Vendee Globe 2004/5. Last year she took over the sponsorship of the French company 'un univers de services' from Vendee Globe entrant Eric Dumont and inherited his boat - the rather ancient Finot Open 60, which as Bagages Superior Alain Gautier won the 1992 Vendee Globe. Teamed up with former Royal & SunAlliance crew Fred Brule, the duo recently put in a respectible performance finishing ninth in the Transat Jacques Vabre monohull class ahead of several more modern boats.
For both Merron and Richards, the Volvo Ocean Race is a supplement to their existing programmes with their individual sponsors, un univers de services and Pindar respectively, and we can expect to see both campaigning Open 60 monohulls in the Route du Rhum this autumn.
Of her new recruits Lisa McDonald commented: "Both women have impressive sailing CVs and will get quickly into the team environment and we will see some good performances from them. They bring invaluable offshore big boat experience and so it will be fantastic to have them on board."
"The team came together in the eleventh hour really and so we never had a proper opportunity to run crew trials. We managed to pull together a strong team right from the start, however we are still working on getting the best group of people. Over time you learn how a group of people operates and each person's habits. We're looking to get the right combination of people for the optimum performance."
"There are still six legs to go, 70 per cent of the points, and I'm optimistic that we will get up there. The team as a whole is doing a fantastic job and we are all on such a steep learning curve. No doubt some of the men's teams will have already peaked, or at least are only slowly learning things; we think we are improving all the time. We have a long way to go, but I'm confident that we will be among the fleet by the time we reach the Atlantic."
While both Richards and Merron are experienced ocean racers on boats the size of Volvo Ocean 60s, neither have sailed one before, nor have they been subjected to the intense pressure of the Volvo Ocean Race.
"This is one form of ocean racing I haven't yet really touched," admitted Richards. "We will get some training in before we leave Auckland on 27 January. After a couple of years in shorthanded sailing, I am really looking forward to sailing with a full crew. I'm coming on board as a trimmer and helmsman and what I love most is heavy air downwind steering so I can't wait to get going with the next leg through the Southern Ocean."
For Merron there is greater responsibility filling the navigator's spot. And she is most aware of this. "There's a lot of pressure and expectation for us. What makes it harder is that I couldn't possibly hope or dream of having the same level of experience as the other navigators in the race. So I would say that I am mildly apprehensive at the moment. There's definitely a fair amount of pressure now as we are coming in to replace particular positions. Recently I've been used to shorthanded racing, so this fully crewed event is going to be a little different to start with."
For McDonald, Merron and Richards represent valuable additional experience in her crew, two more people she can add to her reliable stalwarts from EF. However at present it is not clear whether Merron and Richards will be on board until the finish.