New recruit Jeff Scott told madfor sailing this week that he believed the djuice's disappointing performance in the Volvo Ocean Race is down to sail selection, not hull shape or tactical issues but today skipper Knut Frostad announced a staff and not a sail change.
The djuice campaign has been receiving considerable flack at home in their native Scandinavia over lacklustre results so in an eleventh-hour attempt to rejuvenate their performance on the final two legs Frostad has made some major on board changes.
French navigator Jean-Yves Bernot has been left ashore while Kiwi America's Cup and Whitbread yachtsman Erle Williams will join the team for the sprint legs to Gothenberg and the race finish in Kiel.
Williams has been racing at the highest level for 30 years and has taken part, mostly successfully, in every major yacht racing event there is. He's clocked up 200,000 miles of ocean racing, including two Whitbread races on Flyer in 1981 and then as co-skipper of Swedish Match last time around. He also sailed with the djuice team on leg three from Sydney to Auckland and now returns with the hopes of an entire campaign resting squarely on his shoulders.
Currently djuice is in seventh position and her best leg finish has been second place into Rio de Janeiro at the end of the long Southern Ocean stint, otherwise the pink Laurie Davidson design has finished either fifth, sixth or seventh into every other port. With Amer Sports Too retired on the last stage, Frostad and his team were last into La Rochelle. It was indeed time for what Frostad refers to as "a big change"
"We really had no alternative," he says. "For me, any of these legs is a race. The important thing for us is to have some good results on these two last legs and finish this project on an upside and not on a downside, and that is worth anything. The only thing I want to do when I finish this project is to say that we tried everything, we did our best."
Frostad is now placing his eggs in Williams' basket. "We need some fresh blood, we need a fresh mind and Erle brings some new spirit and some new energy into the team. He's a very forceful and fighting competitor. For the kind of sailing we have for the next two legs, he's a great guy to have onboard, definitely. He brings a lot of good tactical knowledge and his strength is definitely boat-to-boat racing. He has a clean and clear mind and he has confidence to make to make good decisions."
Despite Williams being selected over the highly considered Bernot, both Frostad and the French navigator are adamant there is no animosity between them. Frostad also insists that it was always intended that Erle Williams would rejoin the team.
As well as making the strategic and tactical decisions, Williams will act as one of the watch captains, along with Jeff Scott. Bernot will continue to work with the team as shoreside meteorological support for the remainder of the Volvo Ocean Race.
"For some time now we have not been achieving results. I take full responsibility for our performance however it would not be prudent to continue with the current dynamic. I respect Jean-Yves a lot and there is no hard feeling at all. His work is highly valued which is why he will remain on shore and work with me for the rest of the race. He is still one of the most respected weather experts in the world," explained Frostad.
Bernot meanwhile seems remarkably understanding. "I am happy to be standing down for the rest of the race. It has not been easy. Knut and I have been talking about this for quite awhile but we haven't been able to find a solution. Change was overdue and although we tried to make adjustments, it was impossible until now. But that is the past and for now, we must do all we can for the team. If that requires me to stay on shore then I am pleased that the dragons, as a team, may benefit," he said.
"This was not a difficult decision," continues Frostad. "I have come to realise that if you want to improve, if you truly want to do all you can to make things better then sometimes that means asking for help. I have faced incredible disappointment and disillusionment over the past seven months but I have not given up. I still want to do all I can for the team, for our sponsors and for our supporters. I think the decisions we have made now will lift our performance. And if not, at least I can say I did all I possibly could".
But Frostad is not guaranteeing a complete transformation in performance. "I feel cautious of raising expectations for the next leg. The changes we are making are not going to put us at the top of the leader board but they will make us more competitive and keep us in the game. That's sport".