John Kostecki had one of the safest jobs in the most recent Volvo Ocean Race, flying from port to port to serve as tactician for Ericsson Racing Team for a handful of inshore races.
Next time, the American skipper will be back out where the real action happens, among the icebergs and deadly waves that sailors have to navigate in the around-the-world race, which Kostecki won four years ago.
Kostecki has been appointed skipper of Swedish-based Ericsson Racing Team for the next Volvo Ocean Race. It won't start until 2008, but after finishing a disappointing fifth out of seven boats in the last Volvo, Ericsson figured it needed to get a jump in order to have a fighting chance. Besides hiring Kostecki, Ericsson signed up Juan Kouyoumdjian, who designed the winning sloop in the last race, ABN AMRO ONE.
THE LAST VOLVO was nothing short of a nightmare for everyone except the winners.
A Dutch sailor on sister ship ABN AMRO TWO was killed when he was swept overboard in the North Atlantic. A few days later, ABN AMRO Two turned back to rescue the crew of a Spanish-based sloop that was taking on water.
Yet Kostecki can't wait to get back out onto some of the world's most savage oceans.
"You get worried, but to win yacht races you have to get your boat from point A to point B, so that's a part of the preparation," said Kostecki, who lives in Reno, Nev. "Some teams have been pushing the limits too much. The ABN team in the last Volvo had no major breakdowns. That's why they were so successful. That's what you need to do to win these types of races. You have to be prepared."
Last time, only ABN AMRO ONE made it through the 31,250-mile, nine-leg race without a major calamity.
The new class of 70-foot sloops had canting keels, which can be moved from side to side to increase stability and speed. But most teams were late getting up to speed financially and the keels weren't put through adequate sea trials.
THREE SLOOPS WERE damaged during a storm the first night at sea. As the race progressed, breakdowns increased and boats finished legs in ways totally unimaginable to sailors.
A sloop sponsored by Disney had to be flown in a giant cargo plane from Portugal to Cape Town, South Africa. After Ericsson Racing's yacht sustained keel damage not far out of Cape Town, it was put on a ship to Melbourne, Australia, for repairs.
The race turned tragic on the leg from New York to England. Dutch sailor Hans Horrevoets was swept off the deck of ABN AMRO TWO by heavy waves.
The sloop turned back and found him, but after 40 minutes in the icy water, he couldn't be revived.
Three days later, ABN AMRO TWO answered a distress call from rival yacht MOVISTAR of Spain, which was in danger of sinking from a leaking keel joint. The MOVISTAR crew was rescued and the sloop presumably sank.
"IT WAS A ROUGH LEG," Kostecki said. "It was coincidence. Hans, he shouldn't have been washed overboard. And MOVISTAR sinking, I don't know. It seems like they had problems also earlier in the race that most of the other teams were able to rectify. For whatever reason, they weren't able to and suffered the consequences."
Those are the kinds of nightmarish scenarios that Ericsson hopes to avoid by starting early.
"For sure there's a little doubt in your mind, but you have to be prepared," Kostecki said. "That's one thing we're all talking about from Day One: 'Hey, we've got to get the boat around the course and it has to be reliable to win the race.' To win, you have to finish. A lot of these teams had problems even finishing legs, or multiple legs."
HE SIGNED ON as Ericsson's tactician for the in-port races during layovers, and took over as skipper for one leg as the team floundered late in the race.
"Everything was late and rushed and all the teams were having problems with the boats," he said. "It was like a scramble from the start all the way to the finish. This time we're one of the first teams to announce.
"We're building the team up slowly and getting the right team involved. It will be a totally different program than last time because of a lot more time, and more money as well," Kostecki said.
The 42-year-old Kostecki, an America's Cup veteran and winner of a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics, won this race as skipper of German-backed illbruck in 2001-02.