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Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/
By Agathe Armand
They sailed in the Volvo Ocean Race together twice and enjoyed a fierce yet friendly rivalry in the last edition. Now, Damian Foxall and Neal McDonald are reunited on board another race veteran’s boat, the MOD70 of Sidney Gavignet. Here, we catch up with two of the great characters of the race.

"We talk about the old bar stories – the ones we could never tell the press" - Neal McDonald

“The Volvo comes up a lot in conversation,” says McDonald, who finished fourth with Telefónica in 2011-12 while Foxall was enjoying overall victory as part of the Groupama team.

“For Damian and I, it’s something we’ve been doing for 10 or 15 years. A lot of things we learnt in the Volvo, we can apply to other sailing things. So we do talk about it a lot. Sometimes it’s the old stories, sometimes it’s the bar stories, the ones we cannot talk about to the press…”

The sailors are far from nostalgic, though, with the current experience of working with Gavignet on the Sail Oman team proving an eye-opening one.

“I’m enjoying the One Design,” says McDonald. “I’m enjoying the fact that the MOD70 is a lot less work and a lot more time sailing the boat! If Volvo makes a good job building their One Design class too, then they will have a good formula on their hands.” 

Foxall too is now convinced of the advantages of the One Design, both for the MOD and the future Volvo Ocean 65. 

“It’s great to have both the sensations and the reliability of the One Design. The MOD is sailed by a small team and we only have two or three people ashore. It’s light in terms of logistics and repairs. On the water too, I’m looking forward to enjoy the best of the One Design sailing – the battle on the water and not in the boatyard.  

“Last time around, the Volvo Open 70 implied a lot of research and development. All the pre-start work was 75% of the final result. With the One Design, it will be more like a 50-50 balance: 50% before the start and 50% during the race. It could even be like 40% ashore, 60% offshore. It will always be an offshore race and the preparation of the boat will always matter. But it’s going in the right direction.”

Oman Sail's main race in the 2013 MOD70 season is the Route des Princes going around Europe in June.

“It's fun,” says Foxall over the phone. “It’s exactly what I wanted to do after the Volvo. I just wanted to sail with a smaller team of friends, racing with a good crew. I’ve had a parallel career to Sidney and Neal: they did their Volvo at more or less the same time than me. We make a familiar team.”

So McDonald, Foxall and Gavignet are clearly enjoying the sailing, and they are happy to be back together, sharing Volvo memories. But isn’t it awkward to sail with someone who was your competitor not so long ago? 

“That’s how our world goes,” says Foxall. “We sail as often against our friends as with them. Sidney, Neal and I have been sailing and working a lot together. It’s a very natural thing and it’s a pleasure.” 

Neal McDonald
Six Volvo Ocean Race appearances
1993-94 (Fortuna)
1997-98 (Silk Cut)
2001-02 (Assa Abloy as skipper from Leg 2 onwards)
2005-06 (Ericsson, skipper)
2008-9 (Green Dragon)
2011-12 (Telefónica)

Damian Foxall
Four Volvo Ocean Race appearances
2001-02 (Tyco)
2005-06 (Ericsson)
2008-09 (Green Dragon)
2011-12 (Groupama sailing team)

Sidney Gavignet
Four Volvo Ocean Race appearances
1993-94 (La Poste)
2001-02 (Assa Abloy)
2005-06 (ABN AMRO ONE)
2008-09 (PUMA)

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Yann Riou/Groupama Sailing Team/

Damien Foxall from Ireland, onboard Groupama Sailing Team during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Alicante, Spain to Cape Town, South Africa.

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Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race

Neal McDonald trimming onboard Team Telefonica during leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, from Sanya, China to Auckland, New Zealand.

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