McDonald back to give Abu Dhabi the cutting edge

Text Agathe Armand
Volvo Ocean Race hits the Roaring Forties
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McDonald back to give Abu Dhabi the cutting edge Text Agathe Armand
Neal McDonald is relishing his new role as performance director for the returning Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team. It's a big change for the Briton after six appearances as a sailor, but one that still keeps this fierce competitor, and one-design convert, at the cutting edge of ocean racing.

Having completed more than 200,000 nautical miles in the Volvo Ocean Race, McDonald still loves a race he sailed for nearly two decades. But after being one of Team Telefónica’s watch leaders in 2011-12, it was time to move on.

Alongside skipper Ian Walker, McDonald is leading Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s technical programmes, training and crew development operations for their 2014-15 campaign.

A senior position, it allows him to stay ashore – an important factor for the father of two.  

“It was my 50th birthday this year and I’m getting too old to do this race again,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to get involved at the cutting edge of the race and not be sailing so I won’t cut myself from the family life I’ve chosen to have.

“It’s a good compromise for me. I can get the feel that I’m part of a professional, highly rated team, and not be away from home so much.”

Evolution is an important part of a race McDonald sailed for the first time (very briefly) in 1993-94 on the maxi Fortuna. After competing in 1997-98 with Silk Cut, he skippered Assa Abloy in 2001-02 and Ericsson in 2005-06. The English sailor then sailed in 2008-09 with Green Dragon and 2011-12 with Telefónica. He now looks positively at the new one-design Volvo Ocean 65 contesting the next two editions of the race. 

“I’ve seen several transitions in the years I’ve done this race and each one has always been an improvement. Volvo are clever enough to make sure they keep moving forward. 

“I’ve actually spent this year sailing one-design multihull. I have to say I’m a one-design convert. It takes some of the big variables out of the game. For me it was the right time for the Volvo Ocean Race to make this transition. It will make it more of a sailor's race. After all, we are sailors and that’s what we want!

“This time around there are fewer people on the boat and the Volvo Ocean 65 will be as hard, if not harder to sail than the previous generation. One-design makes the sailing more tricky too in many respects. The sailors will be sailing harder and there will be more young people onboard. It will be a slightly different generation but I think you’ll still see some of the old faces. Just not mine!”