Let's hear it for the buoys

A bad start for the McDonald family at the start of leg 8

Saturday May 25th 2002, Author: Nigel Cherrie, Location: France
If the eighth and penultimate leg of the Volvo Ocean Race ends in Goteborg next week in the same way it began in La Rochelle today, then it will all be over - bar the shouting.

John Kostecki and his illbruck team do not need to win the 1,075 nm sprint to Scandinavia, they just need to stay ahead of their closest rivals for overall honours, ASSA ABLOY and today Kostecki’s men tussled for the lead out of La Rochelle while ASSA ABLOY came a cropper at the back of the fleet.

Neal McDonald needs to win the leg to keep his teams overall title hopes alive but they snagged the underwater holding line on the start buoy and were in last place, several minutes down as the eight V.O.60s headed out into the notorious Bay of Biscay.

To free the yacht from her tangled mess, bowman Jason Carrington stripped his foul weather gear and jumped in the cold water, believing the buoy anchor line was caught on the yachts rudder, but it had actually snagged around the keel bulb. Plucky young New Zealander Richard Mason dived in, deciding to swim to the trailing mark and cut the line. It took the frustrated ASSA ABLOY team at least eight minutes to get going again and to make things even more dramatic ASSA ABLOY had to execute a 360-degree penalty turn for hitting the mark.

The leg got underway just after 1700 G.M.T this afternoon, with illbruck and Team News Corp making the best starts in 15-17 knots of breeze and under bright blue skies. La Rochelle has been an extremely popular stopover and a huge armada of boats, including windsurfers and jet-skis braved the choppy sea to watch the start unfold.

The new mainsail on Jez Fanstone’s yacht seemed to give her an early advantage on the two-sail reach to the first of some 30 marks on the leg to Sweden. News Corp and illbruck soon added staysails to their sail plan and Jez Fanstone’s blue and white Farr designed yacht powered into a two-boat length lead over the Volvo Ocean Race leaders at the first Volvo buoy off Pointe de Chef de Baie, with Amer Sports One also in touch.

Team SEB and Tyco diced for fourth place ahead of djuice and a newly rigged Amer Sports Too. But Lisa McDonald and her all girl team misjudged their approach to the mark and had to re-round. Behind, her husband Neal was still recovering from a disastrous start to the most crucial leg of the race.

The fleet then set out on a 2.5-mile upwind leg to take them out to the open sea. The brains trust on Amer Sports One opted for the right hand side of the thinning channel and some thirty minutes after the start they had edged out a three boat length lead over illbruck, with News Corp next in line.

According to the Met Office shipping forecast 12 hours earlier, the fleet could be heading into the teeth of a gale as they beat upwind to Ushant on the northwest tip of the Brittany coast, which they are expected to round tomorrow morning. The prediction is for southwesterly winds force five to seven, increasing to gale force eight for a time.

News Corp may be the dark horses of the leg as they are fast upwind in a breeze and the first yacht round Ushant could also be the first yacht through the world busiest shipping lane, the Straits of Dover. Amer Sports One skipper Grant Dalton has been fined in the past for disobeying the strict traffic separation zones in the Straits in his giant catamaran Club Med so the fleet will have to carefully thread their way past Dover and into the North Sea.

With 22% of the overall points still be pocked, it is rumoured that many skippers will abandon watch systems for the first twenty-four hours to ensure a good placing at Ushant.

Assa hits the line at full speed

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