Sailing: McDonald wriggles clear to ruin Kostecki's return

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An exhausted Neal McDonald snatched the most hard-fought of wins over the race leader, John Kostecki, in the heat of the night here yesterday. The British skipper of the Swedish yacht Assa Abloy had been on deck continuously for the final 48 hours of the fifth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race from Rio de Janeiro to Florida.

But it was only within the last 10 that he was able to notch up what has been a remarkable second win in the last three legs, pushing him up to second overall, and, even then, nerves were stretched almost to breaking point.

The weather gods, that had earlier dashed the hopes of many in the Doldrums, again switched off the fan as the yachts approached the finish line.

"Having got within six miles we thought we might pull this one off and then we stopped dead. It was a pretty terrifying few minutes," McDonald said. As it was for Kostecki, whose homecoming to the US, left illbruck being swept northwards on the Gulf Stream in over 1,000 feet of water with no possibility of anchoring. "We had done some training in Charleston, North Carolina, and I thought we may have some use for our knowledge of some good spots to eat," he said.

But enough breeze returned to allow McDonald to wriggle east out of the main flow and cross the line first. The additional struggle cost Kostecki over an hour at the end of 4,450 miles over 17 days which had seen the fleet attacked by calms, the crews by heat sores and flying fish, and, in ilbruck's case, a collision with fourth-placed Gunnar Krantz in SEB. He is not in a mood to protest, but the jury will inspect the damage to see if further punishment is warranted.

Kostecki was disappointed with second place but said that McDonald deserved the victory. "We were fast in the middle of the race, but here in the last few days, they were faster," he said. "They deserved to win. We sailed a good race, but we could have sailed better."

At best, the second-leg win for McDonald keeps open the prospect of a two-horse race. But, though McDonald can now look to a 3-2 scoreline in terms of leg wins, and the hope of not just evening that score but aiming for the majority share of the nine legs, his Assa Abloy team still trails Kostecki's by eight points. Which means he must beat the German entry by at least two places on each of the remaining four legs if he is to lift the Waterford Crystal Fighting Finish trophy in Kiel on 9 June.

For his tactician Chris Larson, however, there is the satisfaction of a 2-0 score, having won both the legs on which he as taken part. And the man dubbed "the boy wonder from Annapolis" will be on board again not just for the 850-mile sixth-leg sprint up the coast and through his home Chesapeake Bay waters to Baltimore, but the rest of the race. He may not welcome the temptation offered to fate by his shore crew's admiring confidence in his abilities.

And there was considerable satisfaction for Kevin Shoebridge, scoring a third consecutive third as his old boss, Grant Dalton, rued a bill for new electronics after the yacht's system was "fried" by a lightning strike.

At least he had beaten the all-woman crew of Lisa McDonald, still battling with Knut Frostad's djuice for the honour of not being last.

After three weeks at sea with nothing to eat but freeze-dried food, crew members now have 19 days to recharge before the fleet sets sail again.

"The first thing they will do is grab a beer and a hamburger," Assa Abloy spokesman, Simon Kaeijzer, said. The 32,700-mile race, which started in Southampton last September is due to end in Kiel in June.

VOLVO OCEAN RACE (Fifth leg, Rio de Janeiro to Miami, 4,450 nautical miles): 1 Assa Abloy (N McDonald); 2 illbruck (J Kostecki); 3 Tyco (K Shoebridge); 4 SEB (G Krantz); 5 News Corp (J Fanstone); 6 Amer Sports One (G Dalton); 7 djuice (K Frostad) 124 miles to the finish; 8 Amer Sports Too (L McDonald) 132. Overall standings (based on current positions): 1 illbruck, 36pts; 2 Assa Abloy, 28; 3 Amer Sports One, 25; 4 Tyco, 24; 5 News Corp, 23; 6 djuice, 19; 7 SEB, 17; 8 Amer Sports Too, 8.

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