Troubled Volvo team taps Kostecki

Sailing

March 16, 2006|By CANDUS THOMSON | CANDUS THOMSON,SUN REPORTER

After a dismal showing and several days of vague finger-pointing, the Ericsson Racing Team has replaced its skipper with American racing star John Kostecki for the next leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Kostecki, who won the 2001-02 Volvo race, replaces Neal McDonald, another Volvo veteran, who will remain on board as watch captain and co-skipper on the leg from Rio de Janeiro to Baltimore.

The Ericsson boat, built from the same mold as the Pirates of the Caribbean, has not enjoyed the same level of success as its sister. It finished a distant fifth on the most recent leg from Melbourne, Australia, to Rio, leaving it in sixth place in the seven-boat fleet. Pirates of the Caribbean will most likely be in third when the points are tallied.

"We had to do something," Jason Carrington, the boat's builder and a crew member, told the Volvo Ocean Race Web site. "We are all responsible, but because Neal is top of the pile, this has happened."

Kostecki has been tactician for the three in-port races so far, and is in Rio to prepare for the fourth race, to be held March 25.

The switch to Kostecki was not unexpected. After Ericsson reached Brazil, its managers hinted that even with on-board difficulties, their boat should have finished better.

In Kostecki, the boat has a proven winner, organizer and communicator. He is an Olympic silver medalist, a 10-time world champion in a variety of boats and served as tactician in four America's Cup campaigns. And with McDonald as watch commander, Ericsson has the top two skippers from the 2001-02 race.

But a boat with a skipper and co-skipper is an unusual arrangement.

Despite the potential for friction, management knew change was necessary in Rio if it was to contend under the Volvo scoring system. Even though the around-the-world regatta is two-thirds completed, better than half of the total points remain up for grabs on the last five legs.

Since the start, Ericsson has been a troubled boat. Its keel was damaged during the first leg and again on Leg 2, forcing it to be trucked to Melbourne. The boat suspended racing for repairs near the end of the third leg into Wellington, New Zealand. And when the 70-footer was pulled from the water this week, the crew discovered propeller box damage.

In an interview before the start of the race, Kostecki said he expected crew injuries might force him to sail several offshore legs in addition to his in-port duties.

He did not expect this.

"It's a collection of problems. You can't put your finger on one single thing. Nothing is terribly far off, so it's a matter of fine-tuning and doing a better job in every area," he said on the Volvo Web site. "I know we can improve and are capable of winning at least a leg."

The boats will leave Rio on April 2 for the 5,000-mile run up the Atlantic and into Chesapeake Bay. The first boats are expected to reach the Inner Harbor around April 17.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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