What a difference a place makes. The Aussies arrive in Melbourne, Matthew Sheahan meet an upbeat team at the dock 24/1/06
Arriving last, among those left racing on leg 2, would not in itself be a cause for celebration. Being dumped off the back of a weather system a few days into the leg and seeing the rest of the fleet scorch into the distance wouldn’t set you up in party mode for the finish either. But the difference between the mood of the Aussie’s and the Pirates was as clear as the night and day that separated their arrivals.
Tying up to the dock on a bright and breezy Tuesday morning in front of a decent crowd, Grant Wharington’s crew were clearly relieved to have made it to the end of the 6,000 mile leg. As one of the crew put it, ‘that was the toughest delivery trip I’ve ever done.’
But the real news and the reason for the upbeat mood, was that Wharington’s team has secured sufficient funds to complete the race. Until today, the team was unable to continue beyond Melbourne.
“It’s a really tough game to not know from week to week whether you can pay your team and keep your shore crew intact,” said Wharington. “But negotiations have gone very well with Brunel and we’re delighted to be continuing with the race.”
Although it’s unlikely that the Aussie boat will prove much of a threat to the front runners in the overall stakes, the number of serious breakdowns that have hampered bigger and better funded teams means that Wharington could still deliver a respectable final result, so long as he completes all of the legs. How did he feel about their chances now?
“We’d like to think that by the time we get to the Atlantic leg we’d be as fast as anybody. We know that the boat’s fast in heavy airs running, we’re not so sure upwind,” he said.
With the rush on for most for the fleet to complete modifications and repairs how pressed would the team be to be ready in time for the start of the inshore racing?
“Everyone’s doing some modifications with their boats, everyone seems to have some issues, but ours are probably less than most. We’re happy that our keel’s in good shape and the boat’s very strong. We’ve now got money for some new sails too.
“We don’t need to look at any structural issues, we can concentrate on looking at sails and sail handling systems, all things we would have liked to have done earlier.”
But while the focus was on the last man standing in Melbourne, a meeting on the other side of the city was taking place which could mark a step change in the race from here on.
At the suggestion of the race organisers, teams and experts were invited to a forum to discuss the key issues and to consider whether changes needed to be made to either the format or the schedule of the race from here. The outcome of the meeting will be particularly interesting given the pressure on the organisers to allow boats to beef up their structures without having to take weight out of their keels to stay within the rules.
Under the VO70 rules, boats must weigh between 12,500-14,000kg (an upper tolerance of 30kg is allowed). With a maximum bulb weight of 4500kg, the weight of the remaining structure, including the rig and rigging is 9,500kg.
While many would like to see their boats stronger, the request will not necessarily be met with universal support.
“They’re talking about weight tolerance so that people can put more structure in the boat, said Wharington. “Some of the boats have been caught a bit light on structure and they’ve got to fix that and if that adds weight, then they’ve got to take lead off their bulb. We had to do that at the start.”
In the meantime, the news that the entire fleet of seven will be planning to start the next leg will no doubt be a big relief to VOR CEO Glenn Bourke. To see the fleet drop back to six, with the risk of seeing further breakdowns once the race gets under way, would surely undermine the event before it had reached the halfway stage.