Southampton - Cape Town - Sydney - (Hobart pit-stop) - Auckland - Rio de Janeiro - Miami - Baltimore - La Rochelle - Gothenburg - Kiel
During the period between races, Volvo negotiated with Whitbread to take over the ownership and management of the whole event. Volvo had been looking at sailing with a view to sponsoring a major event and The Whitbread fitted the bill perfectly. The new era began in 1998 and with it the event moved to an even higher plane.
Paul Cayard had shifted the goalposts in 1997-98 with his professionalism and in 2001 the race moved forward yet again with eight syndicates taking a Formula 1 approach to running their campaigns with the commercial and technical professionals, plus of course the drivers, commanding the highest salaries.
The days of cocktails at dusk and bacon for breakfast were definitely over. There was not even much evidence of what the crews, all hardened professionals, were feeling as they swept through waters that in the old days had seemed terrifying. The focus had shifted resolutely to tactics, weather and, ultimately, to winning.
A new points-scoring system, allocating equal points for each leg irrespective of length, was designed to scrap the advantage traditionally offered to the first leg winner, who generally had gone on to win the race. The new regime required the crews to keep the pedal to the metal 24/7.
Lawrie Smith bowed out, as did Paul Cayard, whose attentions returned to the America’s Cup. A few other high profile names had also signed up for America’s Cup challenges, including Britain’s Paul Standbridge and Neal McDonald, who alongside Jez Fanstone was one of the few Silk Cut crew from 1997 to emerge with any credit. As the start of the race grew closer, McDonald abandoned Britain’s America’s Cup syndicate and took up an offer from ASSA ABLOY. His reasons were varied, but the fact that his wife, Lisa, had been appointed as skipper on the all-woman boat Amer Sports Too proved a big draw. Never before had a husband and wife lined up as opponents on the Whitbread/Volvo race start.
Some familiar names were back in the frame. Grant Dalton took the helm of Amer Sports One, while Roy Heiner headed up ASSA ABLOY. Knut Frostad led Djuice Dragons, Gunnar Krantz skippered Team SEB and John Kostecki, who had played a part in Chessie Racing’s efforts in 1997-98, was appointed skipper of illbruck Challenge. illbruck instantly became one of the favourites. News Corp hired Ross Field to lead their syndicate and Fanstone was named as skipper.
Sao Sebastiao, the South American stopover, was replaced by Rio de Janeiro and Fort Lauderdale was substituted with Miami. Reflecting the Scandinavian interests of Volvo, Gothenburg and Kiel made their debut on the race track.
Southampton to Cape Town
Lisa McDonald’s crew on Amer Sports Too had only been together for a week when they crossed the Solent start line and their lack of preparation became evident within minutes as their spinnaker disintegrated before they had passed the Needles.
The opening leg delivered the mother of all baptisms for the first-timers as the Bay of Biscay kicked up an almighty storm, ripping Djuice’s mainsail before the winds subsided almost completely to give them a quiet ride to the Doldrums.
The development of the Volvo Ocean 60 (originally the Whitbread 60) was geared to creating close contests and the first leg highlighted how evenly matched the boats were as the top five boats drag-raced most of the 7,350 miles to Cape Town.
Dalton’s Amer Sports One led for much for of the leg, but in the last few miles calamity struck as Dalton reported two successive crew errors that led to the demolition of key reaching sails, leaving him floundering as illbruck passed by to take the leg. After more than 31 days of racing the margin of victory was a tiny two hours.
Dalton conceded on the dockside that illbruck’s preparation, which had involved three and a half years of training, an elaborate sail programme and more than $20 million investment, had put the Germans ahead of the game. He was dead right. Not a single sail had been broken on illbruck. The only problem had been a failure in accessing the internet after the SatCom B unit came off its mountings. But running repairs proved adequate and the all-important weather information continued to be downloaded, though as soon as ASSA ABLOY arrived in fifth place they promptly lodged a protest against illbruck for making illegal use of an internet weather site. The protest was withdrawn after a three-hour hearing, but once that was over they were protested again, this time by a race official who claimed illbruck had modified their propeller drive strut to include a weed cutting device. That protest was upheld and illbruck was fined £1,000.
Outside the protest room, controversy was raging with equal intensity. A disastrous navigational error on ASSA ABLOY saw Heiner replaced by Neal McDonald. “In the end I guess it is a product of the professionalising of the sport,” Heiner said. “The stakes are higher, the pressures are higher and you have to do what you think is the best for performance."
For McDonald, skippering in the event for the first time, the change came as a mixed blessing. “As a person I am sorry to see Roy go and I have enjoyed sailing with him. The boat is where it is due to Roy's efforts and input, and it's a difficult transition for me to make - I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about it. But I am very proud and pleased.”
Cape Town to Sydney
Within hours of the start the first problem was reported. It came from illbruck and was so serious that Race HQ went on standby for an emergency rescue operation.
“The bow seemed to be lower than normal and started taking waves more frequently,” the report read. “The boat got slower and slower and then we could not keep her going anymore. We eventually found an inspection port on the bow had come off somehow. The entire forward compartment was full of water.” It took two hours of pumping and bailing before the situation was controlled and they could start racing again.
Three days later, Tyco was also in distress after suffering damage to the rudder. They headed for Port Elizabeth to make repairs, but discovered the rudder and bearings needed rebuilding. The boat was put on a cargo ship to Sydney.
Elsewhere, the thrill of riding the Volvo Ocean 60s through the Southern Ocean was evident in the figures. News Corp came within two miles of breaking Silk Cut’s 449-mile 24-hour record and, a few hours later, Team SEB did smash the record, covering 457 miles.
While most the fleet was charging along, Keith Kilpatrick on Amer Sports One was having some serious problems with stomach pains. It was an intestinal blockage that could prove fatal if not treated. The boat was out of range for an airborne medical evacuation, but as his condition worsened the supplies of morphine and antibiotics began to dwindle. The Australian Air Force and Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre airdropped new supplies and navigator Roger Nilson, a qualified doctor, was charged with the job of setting up an intravenous drip while the boat was doing 20 knots through the Southern Ocean. As soon as Amer Sports One reached safer waters, Kilpatrick was taken off.
Team SEB was also having problems. Navigator Marcel van Triest learned his mother had died so he dived off the boat as soon as they neared Eclipse Island and headed home. His team-mates were in the lead but with 48 hours to go illbruck pulled level and News Corp’s Fanstone and ASSA ABLOY’s McDonald were on their tails.
After his leg one blunder, ASSA ABLOY navigator Mark Rudiger was anxious to make amends on the approach into Sydney, but again he took a gamble which went wrong and they slipped from second to sixth. “For myself, I misread the weather in some key instances, and took some larger risks to try to win rather than protect what we had,” Rudiger said. “It pains me to see what the crew and management went through based on my decisions.”
illbruck put in a late surge to cross the finish line first for the second time, a remarkable result after their early problems. Team SEB came in shortly after and Fanstone took third. In fifth was Amer Sports One, who broached in the final stages. Dalton was taken off the yacht on a stretcher with suspected broken ribs.
Sydney to Auckland (via Hobart pit stop)
Before the fleet set off for the third leg, the crews heard of the tragic murder of 1989-90 race winner, Sir Peter Blake in the Amazon. Three weeks later, after some had visited England for Blake’s funeral, the race resumed with a foray into the classic Sydney-Hobart race, characterised once more by challenging weather and much more besides.
Knut Frostad on Djuice reported a serious leak which saw their bow compartments fill with water - in much the same way as illbruck’s had flooded on the second leg - and they lost four miles while crew bailed out.
Then Amer Sports Too suffered a failure of a strop in the headstay, forcing them to drop all their sails in a bid to save the mast. They carried on, planning to replace the strop in Hobart.
Things turned serious when SEB was forced to fit her emergency rudder after her main rudder became damaged and had to retire from the leg. “What has happened is very sad for us, but most important in a situation of this magnitude is ensuring the crew and the boat are safe,” skipper Krantz said. “In the prevailing conditions here, we would not venture to carry on racing with an emergency rudder.”
While all this was going on, McDonald was up front despite being caught in the middle of a water spout. “I was pretty scared,” McDonald said. “We were heading right for the middle of it and altered course to try and avoid it. I assumed it would go downwind and it didn't, it came across the wind and we were in the middle of it. I didn't know when it was going to stop. If we'd had the sails up, there was every chance that we would have had them just all whipped off.”
After a three-hour pit stop in Hobart, they set off again for Auckland though the problems for Neal’s wife, Lisa, on Amer Sports Too were more complicated than first thought after a collision with a whale damaged the rudder. Added to their forestay problems, they were faced with a longer stay in Auckland.
The run to Auckland was, by comparison, plain sailing for most of the fleet and ASSA ABLOY went to the front. Down below, things on ASSA ABLOY had become a bit hairy. One of their key crew, Jason Carrington, had fallen seriously ill after collapsing on deck just after the Hobart restart. He was suffering from serious abdominal pains and fever and it was decided he should remain in his bunk, but the onboard medic, Klas Nylof, had his work cut out when two other crew also became incapacitated through illness and injury. Rather than slow them down, these problems galvanised the remaining crew, who all pulled together and stormed along to victory.
Dalton arrived in second place two hours later and Kevin Shoebridge’s Tyco won a thrilling battle for third. illbruck could only manage fourth.
Auckland to Rio de Janeiro
Halfway round the world, but only four tenths of the points awarded so far. illbruck topped the leaderboard by three points over Dalton’s Amer Sports One, five points over Fanstone’s News Corp and six over McDonald. This tantalising position prompted more than 30 crew changes, none more enthralling than the return of Paul Cayard to assist Dalton.
“He's a fast driver, he's a great tactician, he has huge energy, he is a good motivator, he will be good for me,” Dalton said. “It's been a long two years for me and even though I don't feel tired I am sure I'm probably off the boil a little bit. He's got me working harder than I was expecting, which is a good thing.”
The Southern Ocean beckoned. Even for the veterans, this remained a scary prospect and this time the icebergs were bigger and more frightening than ever. Even before the first sightings were made, SEB and was in trouble again having lost his mast on day 12.
By then, all the boats were worried for their safety due to the amount of ice. “I openly admit that I was seriously worried and on occasions really scared,” admitted Ross Field on News Corp. “We were quite fascinated by the first iceberg we saw, but after we were seeing icebergs the size of major islands, we knew we were in deep trouble. We kept hammering on but I was seriously, seriously worried.”
Some reckoned it had become too dangerous. “They put chicanes into F1 races and there ought to be a chicane in this leg because the boats drove so heavily into the ice for advantage that it is really lucky that we didn’t lose a boat,” said Dalton.
Thankfully all survived and illbruck was first to round Cape Horn having sailed an immaculate leg thus far. Amer Sports One, News Corp and Tyco followed behind them. On St Valentine’s Day, the crew on News Corp had their hearts broken when their rudder snapped off. Earlier in the leg they had hit something – possibly ice – at 21 knots and it was not known if the rudder damage was a delayed consequence. To make matters worse, their transom also cracked, but they made repairs and pressed on.
As the fleet headed north, illbruck’s lead started to evaporate, at one point losing 25 per cent of her lead to Amer Sports One in just six hours. It set up a thrilling finish. After almost 7,000 miles of racing, the five leading boats were locked into the tightest of battles in fickle winds. It was Djuice who saw an opportunity away from the fleet. They moved inshore and found a gentle breeze while ASSA ABLOY and Tyco struggled in no wind at all. This propelled Frostad into second place behind illbruck, which was the order they finished in. Dalton and Cayard could do no better than fifth, which was perhaps the biggest shock of the race so far.
Rio de Janeiro to Miami
Possibly one of the hottest legs on record started with yet another drama, involving Kostecki and Krantz.
On the way out from Rio, Team SEB tried to duck under illbruck's transom, but missed and went ploughing into the German boat. No-one was hurt but illbruck’s hull was left with a hole in it the size of a fist, scratch marks down the side and no aft stanchion or guardrails. The hole was filled before dark and Krantz had no option but to put his hands up and admit to the mistake.
Kostecki, meanwhile, was fuming since he was forced to slow down to make repairs. But in good illbruck tradition, it made little difference and he was soon back up front.
The heat was unbearable and every email carried plenty of detail highlighting their discomfort. Amer Sports One’s Roger Nilson wrote: “Sleeping is very, very difficult. Only at night time can you sleep. At the moment it is the coolest time of day and it is 32 degrees. At the hottest time yesterday it was 37 degrees below decks.”
Nine days into the leg and the three leading boats had cleared the Doldrums, where black clouds and shifty winds had proved frustrating. Then they headed into the trade winds which should have made things more interesting but didn’t.
“With about 2,100 miles to Miami we are locked into the trades and the sailing has become a bit boring,” Nilson said. “Often your best job is sitting on the rail to improve speed, but there is not much for the navigators and tacticians to do.”
All eyes were on the Amer Sports boats. Dalton had earlier claimed that if he was ever beaten by the all-woman crew, he would “run naked down the streets of Auckland with a pineapple up my a**e”. Dalton was challenged closely on this leg by McDonald’s crew on Amer Sports Too and when navigator Miranda Merron put out the announcement that they had edged ahead of the boys, there was much sniggering among the fleet. The girls soon fell back, but were enjoying their best performance to date.
For most of the leg, three boats - ASSA ABLOY, Tyco and illbruck - swapped places at the front, but it was McDonald’s boat that arrived first in Miami, a perfect set of sails providing an extra yard of pace over illbruck, which had seen its light wind spinnaker go overboard three days previously.
This was ASSA ABLOY’S second victory and established them as illbruck’s main opposition with five legs still to race. “Sailing side by side with ASSA ABLOY and Tyco, it was very noticeable that they were similar in speed,” said Kostecki. “They really have copied our sails and a lot of things that we have learned. We thought we had an advantage, but now they're catching up. It's going to be a tight race.”
Miami to Baltimore
The first of the short sprints started with inexplicable errors as six of the eight boats crossed the start line before the cannon had sounded. They had to return while the smug McDonalds, on ASSA ABLOY and Amer Sports Too, sailed away on the 875-mile trip to Baltimore, knowing they had a tricky time ahead in Chesapeake Bay with its fickle winds, complex currents and lobster pots set to sort the men and women from the boys and girls.
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Mark Reynolds was sailing onboard SEB for the leg and after two days he wrote: “I guess I have gotten in more sailing than I normally do in a whole year. I used to think that hiking out was hard. But moving all these sails around, in and out and up and down, is a lot more work than sailing a star boat in an hour-and-a-half race. Despite how much trouble these sails are, they make the boat go fast and I actually slept next to one last night. I guess it’s a love-hate relationship.”
By day three, Fanstone on News Corp had moved ahead of illbruck and ASSA ABLOY, but competition was fierce between the first three boats with less than five miles separating them. The next day, Amer Sports One had joined the fray and right to the finish the skippers sat back in a flat calm and waited for a bit of luck.
Sails were flapping, but sails on News Corp seemed to flap a little harder than the others and Fanstone managed to complete his first victory of the race, an extra cause for celebration on Ross Field’s birthday.
“We didn't know we'd won it until we crossed the line,” said Fanstone. “We flapped our sails better than the other guys and our flapping paid off – good flapping.”
In Rio, many had thought Kostecki was unbeatable, but with three legs to go the race was as wide open as it had been after the first leg with ASSA ABLOY, Amer Sports One and News Corp running into some serious form. illbruck led by just seven points.
“We don’t need them to suffer a disaster to beat them, we just need to be better than them,” said Jason Carrington, now fully recovered on ASSA ABLOY, while Dalton vowed to stay on the podium, whatever it took.
Baltimore to La Rochelle
Heading out into the open ocean again skippers were distinctly nervous as they realised how one small tactical error could make or break their chances.
The fleet emerged from Chesapeake Bay without incident and by the third day Kostecki had worked his way to the front and was ploughing through the water. Powered by 25 to 30 knots of winds, they realised they were in with a chance of setting a new record and 24 hours later they had it in the bag. A massive 484 nautical miles.
While the boys on illbruck were celebrating their good fortune, the unlucky girls on Amer Sports Too were facing total wipe out. Just over 400 miles from the coast of Canada, they heard a loud bang and watched the mast topple over, just above the second spreaders. Fortunately no-one was injured and the yacht was not in danger. They headed to Halifax in Nova Scotia, where the boat was to be transported back to the UK to be repaired before the start of the eighth leg.
illbruck continued to blaze a trail despite an outbreak of flu and ultimately would charge to a commanding win. If that was uneventful, then the battle for second was riveting as McDonald and Shoebridge traded places all the way to the finish line. It was McDonald on ASSA ABLOY who came out on top and while he was fairly happy, he would have been happier with a win “We would have liked to have been coming in here first, but we couldn't quite manage that. illbruck sailed a faultless race. We need a bit of luck on our side, and a bit of bad luck for illbruck, but other than that we will just have to take it as it comes.”
ASSA ABLOY was eight points behind illbruck but with 16 points still up for grabs from the two remaining legs, there was still a chance.
Amer Sports Too left Halifax on a ship for Europe, giving Lisa McDonald's crew 10 days to step a new mast and prepare for the start of the next leg. Against all the odds, they completed the repairs in Gosport and reached La Rochelle in time. When they arrived in La Rochelle, having been battered by storms, they were given a rapturous welcome as fellow crews and the public turned out to acknowledge their bravery and determination.
La Rochelle to Gothenburg
Whether it was nerves, complacency or bad luck, the crew on ASSA ABLOY was strangely off form at the start of the eighth leg and managed to snag the start buoy line around their keel.
Jason Carrington jumped over the side to free the line from the rudder, but when the boat shifted direction they realised the line was caught around the keel bulb, not the rudder. Richard Mason was also sent overboard, but he decided to swim to the trailing mark and cut the anchor line off the mark rather than risk a deep dive in the busy waters. This all took about eight minutes, but eventually the boat moved off having been required by the rules to execute a 360-degree penalty turn for hitting the mark.
The penultimate leg was due to take just five days, but the first night will stick in the minds of the crews as one of the most unpleasant of the race due to the huge swells in the Bay of Biscay, combined with 40 knots of breeze on the nose.
“We have had a tight race since the start and we are soaking wet after a slog to this left hand corner. Very unpleasant conditions have resulted in some of the crew spending time on the white telephone to God,” Matt Humphries reported from News Corp.
Amer Sports One was the first yacht to round Ushant and all yachts had done so within one and a half hours, ASSA ABLOY in sixth. McDonald’s challengers hauled themselves into the lead as the fleet spread out across the English Channel, but then, with 400 miles to go, the boat slowed down for no good reason. Three big fish had lodged themselves on the keel fin and illbruck’s main challengers fell to third in a matter of minutes.
At the entrance to the Gothenburg archipelago, ASSA ABLOY, Tyco, illbruck and News Corp were still within a mile of each other. With two miles to go after 1,000 miles of close racing, McDonald went close to the shore to avoid the tide and chiselled out a victory in the last few seconds. Tyco was a narrow second and News Corp beat illbruck to the final podium place. Dalton could only manage fifth and was now tied for third overall with Tyco and News Corp. In all, the top five boats crossed the finish within a remarkable six minutes and 50 seconds in what was, at the time, the most thrilling finish in the history of round-the-world racing.
A win for McDonald was the perfect result, since it meant there was still a chance that illbruck could be beaten overall if ASSA ABLOY posted another victory in the ninth leg from Gothenburg to Kiel and if illbruck came in fifth or worse.
It was a big if, but this uncertainty created a storm of interest.
Gothenburg to Kiel
There were some radical moves to optimise speed ahead of the final sprint, including some wholesale crew changes. Fanstone dropped two, Frostad three, Shoebridge one, though Kostecki was unwavering in his selections. Same crew, as it had been from day one. Inside, the boats were completely empty, with anything that wasn’t needed by the rules taken off.
There was pandemonium at the start with 2,000 spectator boats making life tricky for the skippers, who were confined to a narrow channel. Neal McDonald almost collided with a spectator boat and then promptly parked up in a windless zone. Disaster. ASSA ABLOY was sixth, five places behind the leader Djuice, who was four miles ahead of illbruck and 29 miles ahead of Tyco at the back of the fleet. The girls in Amer Sports Too were fourth, but they were ahead of the boys in Amer Sports One. Everyone was hoping they could maintain that lead to the end because everyone wanted to see Grant Dalton “walk naked up the street with a pineapple up my a**e”.
The course was shortened so the race would finish in daylight and Djuice brought some romance into the tale at the 11th hour by winning the leg, Frostad’s first victory of the race.
illbruck meanwhile came second and won the race to take the 2001-02 Volvo Ocean Race trophy having posted four wins, two seconds and three fourth places and the most points. ASSA ABLOY was six points behind, but McDonald and Rudiger were pleased that, after the disastrous first leg, they came back with such intensity.
“We all have mixed feelings about the end,” said Rudiger. “We're all ready for closure, and to stop moving from boat to hotel to boat etc. But we'll also miss the race, the singular focus, the awesome sailing, and the achievement. For us especially it has been fun moving up the leaderboard and proving our worth to our sponsors, shore crew, and friends and family.”
Jez Fanstone, skipper of News Corp, brought up the rear and cursed his decision to go west of Anholt Island. He finished fifth overall as Amer Sports One, who took fifth on the leg, came third on the final podium. “It's been torture,” a glum looking Fanstone said on the dockside. “After 32,000 miles of ocean racing, it comes down to a buoy-filled lottery to a certain extent. But all credit to the Amer Sports One guys, they did a nice job and they got a result and hats off to them."
Amer Sports Too took the wooden spoon after a courageous effort. Despite all the late and chaotic preparations, Lisa McDonald’s crew defied the odds to complete the course, battling with the worse of the elements. Dalton finished his sixth round-the-world race with a pineapple stuffed down the back of his trousers.