Brunel crew chosen

Bruce Montgomery gets a status report from Grant Wharington

Wednesday March 22nd 2006, Author: Bruce Montgomery, Location: Australasia
Grant Wharington’s Volvo 70 Brunel, set to rejoin the Volvo Ocean Race in Baltimore under its new Dutch sponsor and above a new bulb on its keel, will decide its new Dutch crew member after the Sydney-Gold Coast Race that begins on Saturday week (April 1).

Wharington told thedailysail today he is flying the full Brunel crew to Australia to man his other boat, the 98ft maxi Skandia, in the 386 nautical mile Gold Coast race, run by the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

“Included in that crew will be the final two Dutch sailors on the short list to join the Volvo race crew,” Wharington said.

Wharington’s watch leader Matt Humphreys put 13 prominent Dutch contenders through their paces in a series of trials last weekend off Zeebrugge on the Belgian coast. Following this he trimmed the 13 down to six: Roeland Franssens, Mark van Gelderen, Eduard van Lierde, Onno Schenk, Mark Slats and Koen Smits.

“Matt will select a short list of two after some windward-leeward trials in the North Sea, beginning on Friday,” Wharington said.

Mark Slats is perhaps the best known of the sailors in the wider community. In April last year Slats completed a solo circumnavigation of the world, having already sailed solo from Brisbane to the Netherlands in 2002. The others are as much an unknown quantity to Wharington. “We’ll fly the final two to Sydney next Tuesday,” he said. “They’ll do the sea survival course before the Gold Coast Race and then they’ll both be on Skandia for the race. After we see how they go, we’ll make the choice.”

In fact, Wharington will make the final choice. Brunel ceded him that right when they negotiated the sponsorship deal in Melbourne.

Sailing as ING Real Estate Brunel, the Wharington boat was last into Melbourne, the fifth and last of the racing fleet to complete the second leg of the VOR from Cape Town, the leg in which Ericsson and Brasil each retired. She arrived with the general expectation on the dock that no white knight would emerge to keep her in the race. It was scripted to be the last of a series of sponsorship dramas for the boat, which only saw her start in Vigo at the 11th hour.

However, Wharington was able to announce he had struck a deal with Brunel, a Dutch company that specialises in professional staffing.

Having a high profile Dutch crew member on board for subsequent legs was part of Brunel’s sponsorship agreement with Wharington. This deal also entailed the company having to fork out a second £275,000 entry fee for the team since the VOR race committee had taken the view that Wharington rejoining the race in Baltimore after his absense from legs four to six constituted a fresh entry and the points he had accumulated in the legs to Melbourne should be forfeited.

All other skippers agreed to the terms of Brunel’s re-entry, as - unless changed in the rules for the next VOR - this raises the prospect of boats being entered for only those legs they find favourable for their particular adaptation of the design rule. Wharington makes no secret of the fact that his prime motive now is to break ABN AMRO Two’s 24-hour run record of 563 nautical miles (with the aid of the north-flowing Gulf Stream in the North Atlantic).

Wharington said today that during the modifications to the boat in Melbourne, he changed the bulb profile, fitted twin retractable daggerboards to replace the previous single 'fixed down' centreboard and trim tab arrangement and reduced the shroud base of the boat.

The boat left Melbourne three weeks ago aboard a container vessel bound for Baltimore where she is due on about April 20, a week before the in-port race and two weeks before the sixth leg start to New York and on to Portsmouth.

In rejoining the Volvo race in the north Atlantic, Wharington has two goals in mind. As well as trying to set a 24-hour record, he wants to win a leg late in the race. Both objectives would maximise publicity for the so far underperforming Volvo 70.

Gold Coast race organisers say Wharington has “some demons to put to bed” in this lead-up race for the crew. He controversially withdrew Skandia from the 2004 Sydney-Gold Coast while in the lead so he and three other crewmembers could contest the Etchells World Championship in Mooloolaba.

“We’ve taken line honours in this race twice with my previous boat but are yet to claim the trophy with Skandia,” Wharington said.

In the same vein, on Wharington’s radar in the Gold Coast race will be arch rival George Snow’s race record of 27 hours 35 minutes 3 seconds which his Jutson 79 Brindabella set in 1999 in strong running conditions.

Skandia will start as line honours favourite in the race north up the NSW and Queensland coasts. Skandia took line honours in the 2003 Sydney-Hobart race but was abandoned after capsizing and losing her rig and canting keel in the 2004 race.

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