Sam Brunner reports onboard ABN AMRO Two in the Parade of Sail from Baltimore to Annapolis 5/5/06

Sailing with the crew of ABN AMRO TWO for the Parade of Sail from Baltimore to Annapolis – where the boats re-start the race with Leg 6 to New York this Sunday – wasn’t an offer I could turn down.

The Volvo boats have travelled over 25,000 nautical miles since the Spanish parade of sail from Sanxenxo to Vigo, where the race started. Since then, the success of the Juan Kouyoumdjian ABN design has garnered the kind of press coverage that sponsors dream of.

ABN AMRO TWO was, confusingly, the first of ‘the twins’ to be built: Volvo race rules specify that every boat built must be raced (making the campaigns very different from the continual boat testing and modification of the America’s Cup playground), and so it was decided to collate an under-30 youth crew to race the first boat, while Mike Sanderson (Moose) was given charge of the later model. ABN information is pooled, and decisions such as to sail without the spinnaker pole (which is included in the overall weight), and use furling lines to control headsails from stern (minimizing crew effort and maximising the possibility of staying dry!) have been followed by most of the fleet.

Collating a team composed of sailors under 30 to compete in a race of this calibre wasn’t an easy task, and many of the crew come with dinghy rather than big-boat experience.

As the Volvo 70 epic has unfolded, the men separated from the boys and the ‘kids’ on ABN TWO grew up fast. The Southern Ocean claimed a broken hand from Nick Bice (AUS) and left bowman Gerd Jan Poortman (NED) with a broken back – the most serious injury of the race to date.

Today, both are back on the boat (though Poortman will be replaced by Lucas Brun until Portsmouth), and the setting couldn’t be further from that of the lower latitudes. It’s back to what Paul Cayard, skipper of Pirates of the Caribbean, termed ‘the Volvo Caribbean Cruise’ in an email from the last leg: bright sun, clear blue sky, and a light breeze of 10-12 from the NW.

Leaving the dock, the crowds and spectator boats are out in force despite it being a weekday, proving the race’s popularity on the US east coast. Andrew Lewis (USA) comments: “Baltimore has been awesome.” But the crew is happy to be moving on to the next leg.

British navigator Simon Fisher, nicknamed SiFi, is frank about the boat’s disappointing race from Rio to Baltimore: “It was really frustrating. The first two and a half days were really fast then we got stuck in a hole on day three, and that was Leg 5 over for us. We knew we’d have to get all the way to the North Atlantic before we could start making any real gains on the guys ahead.”

Holding the record Volvo 70 speed of 40.7 knots, it’s clear that the boys can go fast, and they’ve had their fair share of podium places. Now standing in fourth place by only half a point to Pirates of the Caribbean, there’s everything to play for.

Skipper Sebastien Josse (FRA) is ready to go: “It should be good, and hopefully windy”, and comments that the crew will be moving out of their watch systems for the short (approx 400nm) race, to maximise their performance.

Simon Fisher isn’t phased by the pressure though, saying: “We’ll just do what we normally do, we won’t be match racing to New York.”