GBR Challenge rigger and top sailor Neal McDonald has decided to quit the challenge in favour of the Assa Abloy challenge for the Volvo Ocean Race

Neal McDonald has decided to leave Peter Harrison’s GBR Challenge. He was one of the 16 sailors initially signed by Harrison and Walker and he is leaving to join the Assa Abloy campaign for the Volvo Ocean Race, in which his wife, Lisa McDonald, is competing as skipper of Amer Sports Too, the all-female Nautor Challenge entry. McDonald, seen here at the helm of Club Med, will join forces once again with Jason Carrington, his Silk Cut crew mate.

GBR Challenge’s sailing manager Ian Walker said: “I’m as disappointed now as I was elated to have signed Neal in the first place. However, I fully understand his reasons. Neal has made an invaluable contribution to the challenge, particularly with his development of the new mast. Losing a sailor of Neal’s calibre will always be a loss to any campaign, but he’s already taught us much about sailing these boats and how to run a rig maintenance programme.

“The door is not shut on involvement in the future, if the circumstances are right for GBR Challenge and for Neal.”

McDonald’s dilemma is easy to see: “This has been a really tough decision for me as I’ve always wanted to represent Britain in the America’s Cup. I’m good friends with many of the GBR Challenge team as well as respecting them as some of the best sailors there are. However, in an America’s Cup campaign you need to be single minded and also have the support of your family and friends around you. This was not going to be the case for me, once Lisa secured her last minute sponsorship for the Volvo Ocean Race.

“The respect I have for the team is one of the reasons why I have made my decision, as I didn’t believe that I’d be able to give the job the focus required to do myself or the team justice. I’d have been travelling to the other side of the world regularly and following developments in the Volvo Ocean Race.

“I believe in everything that GBR Challenge represents. Peter and Ian have been very supportive, and if I can help the campaign in the future then I will.”

Assa Abloy’s skipper Roy Heiner was understandably delighted to have landed such a big fish: “He is a guy that can sail on any boat from 49ers to ocean racers. He has extensive sailing experience and is a specialist of composite materials, a qualified naval architect and a dedicated team player. You don’t get any better. Our strategy of hiring some crew at a later stage is now paying off. Neal is reinforcing our already strong team and we are even more confident for the future.”

McDonald is instantly recognisable by his trademark blond curls but his loosely-wrapped tonsorial style and easy manner mask globally-recognised expertise in his field – mast design, maintenance and sail racing. Grant Dalton, the most experienced offshore racing yachtsman still racing, collared McDonald for his Club Med campaign believing him to be “one of the first names on the team sheet.”

McDonald’s sailing CV is impeccable, littered with world championships, global campaigns and America’s Cups. His legacy to GBR Challenge is their new mast, currently in build at Southern Spars, and a wealth of rigging expertise imparted during his five months with the Challenge.