British sailor Neal McDonald (38) from Hamble, UK, has taken over as skipper of Assa Abloy, replacing Roy Heiner (NED). McDonald will join Mark Rudiger (USA) as co-skipper at least for Leg 2 (from Cape Town to Sydney).

McDonald is recognised as one of the world’s best sailors with an impressive record in ocean racing and short course tactics. He is married to Lisa McDonald (USA), the skipper of Amer Sports Too.

Project Director Richard Brisius commented: ‘Following analysis of the Assa Abloy Racing Team, looking at Leg One and at future legs we have come to the conclusion, bearing in mind that the decision of the team has always been to make a successful project, that we needed to change the leadership onboard the boat and that Roy (Heiner) would no longer be the skipper of the boat. Roy has been a key person in the crucial build up period of the campaign and has been a great ambassador for Assa Abloy and their partners and the Volvo Ocean Race and it makes it really sad that he will not be associated with the campaign.’

He added that these projects [VO60 racing campaigns] are now so complex that one type of leadership is needed pre-race and a different type of leadership during the race. ‘We feel certain that the approach that we need now is not the one we had onboard’ he concluded.

He confirmed that Neal McDonald will be the skipper of the boat for Leg 2, adding, ‘Neal is a world class sailor and with the support of the other world class sailors onboard the boat, we are sure we have the best possible set up for Leg 2.’

Brisius further confirmed that ‘Black Tuesday’, (the day that Assa Abloy rounded the Island of Trindade off the Brazilian coast) was only one event during leg one and was nothing to do with the decision at all.

Roy Heiner commented: ‘I am highly disappointed. It is not the dream scenario you go on with. It feels a little bit like that mountain (Table Mountain) over there has just come rolling down on top of you. I guess tomorrow the sun comes up again and life goes on. I think Neal is a very good sailor. We had a lot of fun and I have a lot respect for him, and I think he will do a fantastic job. I have often been in Richard’s position and I don’t think it is the easiest of choices to make and in the end I guess it is a product of the professionalising of the sport of sailing. The stakes are higher, the pressures are higher and you have to do what you think is the best for performance and in the end it is a top sport, but life goes on. I guess I will go and find a tall mountain and reflect on it all.’

Neal McDonald: ‘It is obviously difficult circumstances and as a person, I am sorry to see Roy go and I have enjoyed sailing with him. One of the things that I think our team needs to remember is how much energy and technology he has brought to the campaign and some of our thoughts in the future will be to keep those ideas going. The boat is where it is now, a lot 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. I certainly feel less comfortable sitting here than I’m going to be out on the ocean – that’s one thing I will admit. But from my personal point of view, clearly I am very proud and pleased to have confidence installed in me by our sponsors and our management team and I am looking forward to getting stuck in and getting the next leg organised.’

Co-skipper and Navigator, Mark Rudiger concluded: ‘I have seen more than anybody the work that Roy has done – late nights and a lot of sacrifices. I am going to miss the guy – it wasn’t my first choice but if it’s the choice of the management of the team, then it it’s the best way to win the race, then I’m all supportive of it. So we all go on from here and like Roy said, the sun will come up tomorrow and we will all live to win more races and sail more regattas and I hope I get the chance to sail with Roy again.’

The place left on the boat