Sue Pelling caught up with the McDonalds who are sailing as a part of Ben Ainslie's Volvo for Life crew at Cowes Week.

Neal McDonald recently drove Assa Abloy to second place in the Volvo Ocean Race, after taking the skipper’s job on the second leg and clawing the VO 60 back within a whisker of winner illbruck at the end. His wife Lisa skippered Amer Sports round the world during the same race. Both are in Skandia Life Cowes Week competing on Volvo for Life, the 70ft Swan, Serano, skippered by Ben Ainslie.

Yachting World’s Sue Pelling caught up with them after the first day of racing:

YW “Neal, you’re obviously content to be aboard Volvo for Life, trimming for Ben, but would you not prefer to forsake that and be helming another boat yourself this week?”

Neal “No, not at all. Sailing with Ben is always entertaining and I must admit that he is one of the few helsmen who I feel, yes this guy has got something, that little sparkle that the rest of us haven’t. I think it’s a good opportunity to sail in Skandia Life Cowes Week and sail with some of my chums and, of course my wife.”

YW “How did the job aboard Volvo for Life come about?”

Neal “I suppose it was word of mouth and I guess it was probably sparked off by the fact that Lisa and I were sailing in Cork Week together, just a couple of weeks ago, and met up with Ben. The rest is history.”

YW “With such a successful Volvo Ocean Race under your belt, do you now have hundreds of sailing offers flooding in?”

Neal “I’m completely unemployable (he says with a smile)! Seriously, I don’t have many offers at all. In some respects, I think there’s always a profile change when you switch role on a boat, as I did during the VOR. I think some of the doors that were open become closed, but hopefully other doors will open. Nothing is really leaping out at me at the moment and there’s nothing obviously attracting me.”

YW “So you’ve nothing planned for the near future?”

Neal “Actually Lisa and I do have an exciting trip next week. We’re sailing round the UK on Bruno Peyron’s boat Orange, which should keep us out of trouble for a while. We then may go off to France to some of the fun regattas and choose what we want to do.”

YW “What about Serano, the Swan 70 you’re sailing on this week, is she up to your racing standard?”

Neal “She’s not the sort of boat I’d normally sail on, and again it’s another learning curve. She’s a cruising-type boat, which is something I rarely get involved with. Unfortunately, in rating terms, the light sticky airs we experienced on the first day are not ideal conditions for the big boats like Serano. In medium winds I think the rating will be better for us and we’re looking forward to some good racing later in the week.”

YW “If there was anything you could change to improve her performance, what would it be?”

Neal “Nothing really, I think she’s fairly well sorted. I think we just need the right conditions. Any handicap system is going to be bugged by condition-orientated results.”

YW “Lisa, you and Neal are both very capable sailors in your own right, what is it like to sail on the same boat?”

Lisa “It’s actually quite good fun. We’ve done a lot of sailing together and because we know each other, we work well as a team. There’s a fair amount of shouting but that’s generally the same on any racing boat. Two weeks after completing the VOR we jumped in to a Hobie 18 together and raced the 600-mile Swedish Archipelago Raid; a bit mad, but good fun.”

Neal “It was a great race, and as Lisa says, totally mad. We stormed round doing 21 knots at times, both out on the wire and I have to say we did get lost once. We had the GPS in one hand and a chart in the other – it was awesome!”