Grand finale

Ed Gorman was in Kiel for a stunning finish of the Volvo Ocean Race 2001/2

Monday June 10th 2002, Author: Ed Gorman, Location: United Kingdom
What a finish. You could hardly ask for more than the show put on by the sailing community at Kiel for the finish of the Volvo Ocean Race, where tens of thousands of people, both on shore and in hundreds of yachts and spectator craft, turned out to welcome the fleet and salute a worthy winner in John Kostecki's illbruck.

The Volvo has often struggled in its ports of call and even at its start to create an exciting atmosphere yet it has finished with two resoundingly successful settings at Gothenburg, where the start of leg nine was the busiest of the race, and then at the finale at Kiel.

Given the uncertainties about the future of the race and the barely concealed sense of doubt within Volvo about what it should do with its event, these enthusiastic expressions of public support will hopefully come as a welcome boost. It was also clear, as the crowds clapped and cheered and hundreds of horns blasted in discordant unison, that the heart of this event has decisively shifted from the south coast of England to Scandanavia and the Baltic with the move from Whitbread to Volvo.

There was so much to savour at Kiel. Knut Frostad and his horrible-looking black and purple djuice comes from nowhere to win the leg; illbruck seal their emphatic overall victory; the girls on Amer Sports Too finally break the pattern of wooden spoons and get in in fourth, just a couple of hundred yards ahead of Grant Dalton and his boys on Amer Sports One.

(Dalton has a particular horror of being beaten by women in sailing. He just can't stand it and has for years joked that, should it ever happen, he would walk naked down one of Auckland's main streets with a more prickly form of fruit up his arse. Fair play to him as they say in football, Dalts was more or less true to his word, taking off all his gear except his shorts and going through the motions with a pineapple which someone had thoughtfully presented to him.)

Back to djuice. The word was they had stripped their boat bare of everything and anything they didn't need or weren't allowed to jettison under the rules and managed to save half a ton in weight by the time they set sail from Sweden. They sailed with just nine crew, with 12 sails - some without bags - and with a tool kit reputedly consisting of one hammer and one adjustable spanner.

Frostad cannot be faulted for trying and he certainly never gave up on a campaign that had gone badly wrong. But the fact that he had to go to such lengths to get on terms must stand as an indictment of his misguided thinking on boat design way back when he set out on this campaign four years ago.

When illbruck got in just over half an hour after the purple clad ones, the place really did go nuts. Despite the fact that there is only one solitary German on the Illbruck crew in the form of Tony Kolb, the locals recognise illbruck as a proudly German campaign and they were keen to show their appreciation. Kostecki is never one to win in the personality stakes and he was predictably downbeat at his own post race press conference, admitting only that it had been an emotional final few hours as the leg finished and he knew they were safe.

What really gave him the most pleasure on this final leg was the way illbruck showed her paces downwind in light airs, something his rivals had pointed to as one of her early weak spots. Kostecki got his team working on new sails and new ways of sailing the boat and she was quick when he needed her to be on Saturday night as the crews duelled in the lightest of airs in the Kattegat. "We did have some weaknesses," he said referring to this aspect and others, "but we improved our weaknesses and now they are strengths," he added.

With all the hoo-ha about djuice and the girls, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that illbruck's second place into Germany made certain a crushing and emphatic performance in this race which simply blew everyone else away. They came out of the blocks nine months ago prepared to their fingertips and with all guns blazing, resulting in a perfect 16 points by Sydney at the end of leg two. From there they could afford their succession of fourths on the shorter legs - they were too far in front and in reality there was little chance they were going to be caught.

Neal McDonald, the Assa Abloy skipper who has done his level best to reel them in, was effusive in his praise for Kostecki and his team as he accepted his own second place with a beer in hand on the pontoon just upstream from the Kiel Yacht Club. Asked whether he thought Assa might have won the race had they not had a skipper change after leg one, McDonald was dismissive. "We were up against illbruck who thoroughly deserved to win," he said. "They sailed like demons and were incredibly well organised. I don't think you can go back and say 'if things had been different we might have been there'. They weren't different and we are very pleased to be where we are," he added.

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