ASSA take leg three
Finally the Volvo Ocean Race has a non-German winner in Neal McDonald's Assa Abloy, flew across the Auckland finish line at 0620 (1720GMT) in a time of 8 days 11 hours 50 minutes and 42 seconds.
After illbruck's first places in the last two legs Assa's victory will breathe some new life into the race's result table and allay the fears of those worried that John Kostecki's ultimate Volvo campaign was going to do a Steinlager and clean up.
The key moment in this last leg from Sydney seems to have been when the boats were parked up in Storm Bay and American helmsman/tactician Chris Larson opted to steer offshore slightly putting the boat into new breeze and allowing the yellow Swedish boat to steer around the competition. She romped into Hobart 24 minutes ahead of Grant Dalton's Amer Sports One and first overall in the Sydney-Hobart race.
From Hobart Assa sailed a course to the north of the rest of the fleet. "For days and days our weather guys in Sydney were telling us that the northerly would win through and if you try to buckle up in the south you'll lose," commented skipper Neal McDonald on his arrival. This move paid off handsomely and saw Assa extend her lead by up to 127 miles sailing in north westerlies at a hotter angle than than those to the south.
Although there were few passing lanes for the chasing pack, the passage for Assa was not without its fraught moments. Aside from being chased by a water spout soon after leaving Sydney, they had two sick crewmen on board and veteran ocean racer Magnus Olsson nearly got off the boat in Hobart suffering from back pains. A day out from Hobart Jason Carrington was suffering from a severe dose of intensinal problems that at one point looked as though it would require him to be dropped off once Assa reached Cape Reinga, and Guillermo Altadill in the final 48 hours was also complaining of intestinal problems. Making up for the short fall in crew, McDonald said, had made the fit crew particularly tired.
Rounding Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip of New Zealand, Assa Abloy was becalmed. "It was clear that the weather as we got nearer was going to be compression, and that everyone from behind was going to be catching up," commented McDonald. "Things were most tense when we came round the Cape at the top, we completely ran out of wind and parked for a long time. We kept our heads cool and kept sailing hard. That was the toughest point - mentally and stress-wise."
At this point there was a distinct possibility that Assa Abloy might be caught and overtaken by Grant Dalton, a man hungry to be the first into Auckland, his home town for the third time on the trot. "He's probably the worst man in the world to have behind you coming into Auckland," said McDonald of the formidable Kiwi skipper, with whom he set off a year ago on board Club Med in The Race. "He's got a good reputation for being a come-back king. We were aware that if anyone was going to catch us it would have been him."
Sailing down the east coast of North Island, Amer Sports One closed to within 19 miles of Assa.
In addition to plain luck, the addition of tactician Chris Larson for this leg seems to have made a beneficial impact on the brains trust on board and provided a new voice in the decision making process.
After a shakey start to this race - Assa were late picking their crew prior to the start in Southampton and then had to recover from the firing of Roy Heiner in Cape Town, the yellow boat has finally come good. Of all the Farr boats, Assa Abloy has the lightest hull and largest keel that has led many, Grant Dalton in particular, to view her as potentially the fastest boat in the fleet.