Ericsson - unsportsmanlike conduct

ABN AMRO One lays into the Swedish team's decision to suspend racing reports Bruce Montgomery

Saturday February 18th 2006, Author: Bruce Montgomery, Location: United Kingdom
Leading skipper in the Volvo Ocean Race Mike 'Moose' Sanderson today accused Ericsson Racing Team and its skipper Neal McDonald of unsportsmanlike conduct in the third leg of the race.

By exploiting an anomaly in the rules to fully service the boat during the Wellington pit stop while the rest of the fleet was limited to minimal maintenance by the sailing crew, Ericsson was flouting the spirit of the race and its rules, Sanderson said.

"I think they're taking the piss a little bit," he said. "What they are doing is just not cricket. It is a bit of an underarm bowl. I respect Neal as a skipper a lot. I am assuming he has given it a huge amount of thought, but I know there are some very upset people about it."

Sanderson, a yachtsman known for his mild manner and care with words, was to the point in his criticism of Ericsson's tactic.

On Thursday Ericsson sailing last in the six-boat fleet from Melbourne to Wellington, approached the finish line but did not cross it, advising the race committee that it was putting ashore to make repairs and would complete the leg later, now expected to be tomorrow afternoon Wellington time.

Had Ericsson crossed the line and had then made repairs using people additional to its sailing crew and using equipment not available on the boat, it would have been subject to a two-hour penalty at the start of Sunday's leg to Rio de Janeiro via Cape Horn.

It would have left Wellington two hours after the rest of the fleet, as movistar has opted to do, with the implied risk of missing a weather system and trailing the fleet to the cape and to Rio, both of which score points in the VOR.

By making good the boat before actually finishing the third leg, it incurs the two-hour penalty in that leg, not the pit stop, the loss being irrelevant because it was going to finish last in any case, but still collect two points for doing so.

Brasil 1 skipper Torben Grael was the first skipper to denounce the Ericsson tactic, describing the move as "dishonest" and "dishonorable". Today, Grael chose not to add to those comments but ABN AMRO One's Sanderson was just as damning.

"I can understand why they have done it," he said. "I know what they (the Volvo Ocean Race) intended with the rule and what Ericsson has done is not what they intended with it. With the rules, it is not how they are worded, it is what was intended, what they (the VOR) were trying to achieve, the spirit of it. As someone said to me, what they are doing is just not cricket. It is a bit of an underarm bowl."

Asked if he would you have done it had he been in Ericsson's position, he said: "No, I wouldn't have done it. I think they they've pissed everyone off a lot by it so I wouldn't have done it."

Ericsson's navigator Steve Hayles has referred to a sense of justice for Ericsson, given their failure before an international jury following the Melbourne In Port Race on February 4, when the race starter adjudged them to be across the start line early.

Armed with video and still evidence to show it was Brasil 1 not Ericsson that had crossed the line, the team never got to first base with the jury because they did not raise a red protest flag during the race and then left their request for redress for 30 hours before lodging it.

"I would never dwell about things in the past, but if we were talking about spirit, then our In Port race we would have been given some kind of redress for a situation that I have absolutely no doubt, and can prove to anybody wanting to sit down and listen, and look, that we were hard done," Hayles said. "We were dealt with by the hard letter of the law and that is all that is being applied here."

Both Sanderson and movistar skipper Bouwe Bekking said the nexus with Melbourne was untenable.

"I know they are trying to compare it with Melbourne, to say the letter of the law bit them in Melbourne, but that's totally incorrect," Sanderson said. "The letter of the law is so different when it comes to protests. The first thing they do in a protest is to make sure you have been through the procedures correctly, and they hadn't. They hadn't filed the protest until way too late. I don't see that as the same situation at all. To use that is not relevant. There is no similarity whatsoever in that situation and this."

Bekking said Ericsson did not have a leg to stand on in Melbourne. "It was not a matter of justice after the In Port race in Melbourne, because I think they were over the line at the start in any case. Brasil certainly was but they were too."

Bekking disagreed with Sanderson on Ericsson's decision not to cross the finish line in leg 3. He said it was "a bloody good thing".

"Sometimes the rules are written with mistakes in them and they have picked up on it," he said. "Had it been me I probably would have crossed the finish line and then discovered that I could have done what they did.

"These are British people and they are very much about the rules. Good on them, they picked it up. It's not the spirit, but they picked up on it. They've done their homework."

Sanderson doesn't particularly like the rule about no outside assistance during a pit stop. "But the intent of the rule was to save money, to make the race cheaper and to make it better value for money for the sponsors," he said. "I think they're taking the piss a little bit. They have upset people relatively needlessly. If it had been me, I think I would have copped it on the chin, taken the two hours and got on with it."

At Queens Wharf, Pirates of the Caribbean skipper Paul Cayard was copping it from his shore crew. Banned from stepping aboard to assist the sailing crew prepare the boat for the fourth leg, the shore crew sipped drinks, ate nibbles and used a megaphone to issue instructions to their skipper.

At a nearby marina, the movistar shore crew was making solid progress on repairing the wear and tear to the underside of the hull, at the points where the port side daggerboard and the canting keel emerge.

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