Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A 'Novice' Kiwi's View of the 2008-9 Volvo Ocean Race: Andrew McLean of the Green Dragon

Andrew McLean keeps smiling, no matter what, on board the Green Dragon. Image copyright Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing.

Andy McLean (aka 'Animal') has followed in the long-standing New Zealand traditions of match racing, the America's Cup (with Emirates Team New Zealand) and now the Volvo Ocean Race.

He is interviewed after leg 5, in Rio de Janeiro, by Anne Hinton... and it's clear that food, sleep and home are very important to this Kiwi international sailor.

AH: Why is your nickname ‘Animal’? How did this come about?

AM: I’m not exactly sure how that nickname came about, to be honest. I got given it during the 2007 America's Cup. I think it's because I spent most of my time downstairs in the sewer packing sails, and it has followed me to the Green Dragon.

AH: Why did you want to do the Volvo Ocean Race?

AM: I have always wanted to do the Volvo/Whitbread, I use to plot the skeds of Steinlager II on my wall when I was a kid. There is something cool about ocean sailing, especially circumnavigating the globe.

AH: How are you enjoying the Volvo Ocean Race?

AM: I am enjoying sailing with the Green Dragon, we have some really experienced guys on board with Neal McDonald, Damian Foxall and Justin Slattery, and I really enjoy learning from these guys. The new course has made the sailing lighter and more upwind than the previous editions of the race, which is probably less appealing than the old days of hauling through the Southern Ocean, but it has been challenging I guess. The Volvo 70s are powerful boats and really physically demanding to sail, but the speed at which you can cover the miles is pretty rewarding.

Andy McLean checks the mast in rough weather on leg 2 from Cape Town to Cochin. Image copyright Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing/Volvo Ocean Race.

AH: What are your roles on board the Green Dragon?

AM: On board the Green Dragon I am a Pitman/Bowman/Trimmer; I think that is my technical role, and I do a bit of driving. You really end up all over the place on these boats, everyone has to be able to be pretty proficient in all areas, which I think is part of the fun of it. On board I look after the mast and the electronics. Both can keep you pretty busy.

AH: What is your onshore role?

AM: Ashore I look after servicing the rig along with guys from Southern Spars and Sydney Rigging. We have a pretty handy bunch of guys ashore which makes life pretty easy on the beach.

AH: How tough is this Race compared with other offshore racing?

AM: You would have to say that the Volvo Ocean Race is the toughest offshore race in the world, the standard of the fleet is very high and the course takes you through some of the toughest stretches of water. The leg into China has probably been one of the highlights of the race for me so far, just trying to keep the boat together and surviving in those tough conditions was awesome.

AH: ... and compared with the (very different) America's Cup?

AM: The America's Cup is very different to the Volvo Ocean Race, it is pretty difficult to compare the two events. The America's Cup is a very tough regatta, even though the food and sleeping programmes are much better in the AC, the intensity makes it pretty tough.

AH: The last two legs have presented big issues for the Dragon – structural and food/mechanical. How have you coped with these different challenges as a team?

AM: We did have a couple of breaks in the early legs on the Dragon, firstly hitting something coming into Cape Town, then breaking the boom into India and the Headstay hanger in the leg to China. I think each time we have dealt with the situation pretty well and minimised the effect it has had on our performance. We have pretty good contingencies in place on board for breakdowns, you have to be pretty self sufficient in the middle of the ocean.

Andy pretends to grab food when rationing comes into effect on board the Green Dragon on leg 5. Image copyright Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing/Volvo Ocean Race.

AH: What experiences in your personal background have helped in these situations?

AM: My engineering background has probably helped quite a bit I think. It’s a full time job keeping these boats together, maintenance is just as important as the actually sailing. One thing is for certain, I love food! Rationing the last week into Rio was pretty tough!

AH: How do 11 men manage to live together on a 70 foot boat for 43 days?

AM: 43 days wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. We are pretty lucky on the Green Dragon as we all get on really well as a team. Everyone goes through their highs and lows during such a long leg, and you learn when to give each other a bit of space now and then, but generally we have a lot of fun sailing together.

'Animal' munching on a snack earlier on leg 5. Image copyright Guo Chuan/Green Dragon Racing/Volvo Ocean Race.

AH: Tell us the secret of how you keep smiling (‘Happy of the Volvo’) even when exhausted after days of sailing and the constant challenges of life on board the boat?

AM: Not sure about that, maybe I just smile for the camera!
[AH: This is a very modest reply, as Andy is always to be found smiling, come what may, as the team confirms!]

AH: What are the best and worst things about doing the Volvo Ocean Race?

AM: The best thing about the Volvo is arriving at the dock at the end of each leg, when you see the Dragon shore team and friends and family. When you finish a leg you get a real sense of achievement within the team, even if you didn’t do as well as you hoped.

The worst thing is probably the amount of time you spend away from home, I’m really looking forward to getting back to New Zealand. It was pretty painful sailing so close to home and not stopping.

Go the Dragon!

AH: Thank you very much indeed for your time and all the best for the remainder of the Volvo Ocean Race to St Petersburg.

Green Dragon Racing
Volvo Ocean Race

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