Dongfeng makes race history for China
SANYA, China, January 27 – Dongfeng Race Team claimed a key landmark in the 41-year history of the Volvo Ocean Race on Tuesday when they emphatically won Leg 3 in their home port of Sanya to take the overall lead with six stages to go.
No Chinese team has won a leg in the race before despite two previous entries – Green Dragon in 2008-09 and Team Sanya in 2011-12 – but Charles Caudrelier’s (FRA) crew put that right in style.
“It’s the most stressful leg I’ve ever done in my life,” said a mightily relieved Caudrelier, minutes after crossing the line. “But the result is fantastic!”
After finishing narrow runners-up to Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) and Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) respectively in Legs 1 and 2, Dongfeng took a firm grip of the 4,670-nautical mile stage from Abu Dhabi to China virtually from the start on January 3.
At one stage, entering the treacherous Malacca Strait, they stretched their advantage over the fleet to more than 106nm but the fleet never gave up their chase and as they skirted along the wind-shielded Vietnamese coast, Caudrelier found his team’s lead cut to under 10nm.
But the 40-year-old and his crew of experienced French sailors mixed with rookie Chinese Cheng Ying Kit (‘Kit’) and Liu Xue (‘Black’) plus young Australian Jack Bouttell, stuck grimly to their game plan and slowly but surely stretched their lead once more as they entered the final day’s sailing.
An infuriating – for Caudrelier and his crew – lack of wind in the South China Sea kept the tension up into the small hours of Tuesday morning and once more the fleet led by Walker’s Azzam closed the gap a little but Dongfeng had come too far for too long to relinquish their advantage now.
At just past 0731 local time (2331 UTC), they crossed the finish on a glorious Sanya morning just after daybreak, some 45nm clear of second-placed Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) with Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) 13.5nm further behind.
They are expected to scrap all the way to the finish with MAPFRE (Xabi Fernández/ESP) and Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) hot on their heels.
Those boats are expected to finish within short order of each other later on Tuesday with Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) due to complete the leg later into the evening.
Walker off to a flyer
ABU DHABI, January 3 - Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) bade farewell to their home port for the hazardous Leg 3 on Saturday by leading the fleet out towards their eventual destination of China from under a blanket of fog.
Light winds are forecast for the first few days of a stage which is expected to take about three weeks before the six boats arrive in Sanya, China.
Few had reckoned on a thick fog for the leg departure from Abu Dhabi (1000 UTC) where the boats had spent Christmas and New Year.
It enveloped the course from early morning and stubbornly refused to shift, even under the normal hot midday sun.
Instead the teams had their work cut out even to see the turning marks through the murk before leaving the port where they had enjoyed such a wonderful break.
Azzam finished the in-port course after just under an hour (59min 34secs) as the sun finally began to poke through with Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) and Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) on their heels.
For Team Vestas Wind skipper Chris Nicholson (AUS) and his crew there must have been very mixed feelings as they waved their rivals farewell for the 4,642 nautical mile (nm) trip to Sanya.
Nicholson’s boat is now heading for a major repair job culminating in their hoped-for return to the race for the final two legs from Lisbon from June 7 following their grounding during the second leg on a reef in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
“The toughest moment for us will be the first night of the leg,” Nicholson told a news conference on the eve of the departure.
“That’s when you really know you’re in an offshore race. But we have a new target now – to concentrate on repairing our boat to return to the race.”
The third leg promises to be intriguing all the way but particularly during the Malacca Strait which separates the Indonesian island of Sumatra and Malaysia.
At some stages, it narrows to 1.5nm and is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
“It’s the most challenging part of the whole race,” Team Alvimedica (Charlie Enright/USA) navigator Will Oxley (AUS) said on the eve of the leg.
“I'm pretty happy dealing with big waves and strong winds, but the complexity of dealing with a narrow channel, and a very large amount of shipping is what causes the problems.
“Some 300ft of steel coming at you at 20 knots is always concerning, particularly if you haven't got much control over your speed if there's not much wind.
“Then you have squalls, very violent squalls in the night, and there's lots of fishermen who are not showing navigation lights and have long nets. You can get tangled in the nets, or worse still, run someone over. So it's very stressful."
Team Vestas Wind: we’ll be back by June
ABU DHABI, January 2 - Team Vestas Wind has announced bold plans to rebuild their badly damaged boat and return to the Volvo Ocean Race by June.
The Danish team’s Volvo Ocean 65 was dramatically grounded on a reef in the middle of the Indian Ocean midway through Leg 2 on November 29.
Their nine-strong crew miraculously avoided serious injury in the 19 knot (35kpm) collision but the boat suffered extensive damage, especially to the stern.
However, it was retrieved from the reef just before Christmas and is currently being assessed in Malaysia by experts. It will then be transported by Race partners Maersk Line to Italy and then taken to Persico in Bergamo for repairing.
Skipper Chris Nicholson (AUS) told a news conference on Friday that the condition of the boat had built confidence that it could yet be fixed and returned to competition before the 12th edition of offshore racing’s toughest event is completed in Gothenburg on June 27.
“We got the boat off the reef in better condition than we thought possible,” he said. “There are large portions of the deck that can be reused – 70 to 80 per cent – and a lot of other components within the structure. We’ll rebuild our boat just as we rebuild our hopes and dreams.”
The aim is to return the boat to the now six-strong fleet in Lisbon ready for the Leg 8 start on June 7.
It’s been a rollercoaster few weeks for Nicholson, who led his crew to safety through waters on a dark night of November 29-30 and Saturday’s third leg departure from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, China promises to be another low point.
“It’s really going to hit hard tomorrow night, not necessarily on the start gun tomorrow when the boats start (1000 UTC) but tomorrow night. That’s when you always know you’re back in an ocean race – the first night,” he said.
“Until now we’ve been focused on how we can clean up everything on the reef, the best job that we can do getting the boat back and then ultimately relying and trusting on Vestas and Powerhouse to hopefully allow us to get us back in the race.
“Now that that’s done, hopefully mentally we can be in a different phase now to rebuild everything that we’ve hoped for.”
Team Vestas Wind CEO Morten Albæk has told his skipper that the ultimate plan will be not just to return for the eighth leg start from Lisbon to Lorient but give the six other boats in the fleet a run for their money after that.
“That,” he said, “will be real success.”