Dongfeng Race Team fights back to second place and breaks leg mileage record
Charles Caudrelier and his crew on the red and white Volvo Ocean 65, Dongfeng, have been demonstrating their determination to achieve the best possible result in Leg 2 of the Volvo Ocean Race with a display of spectacular heavy weather sailing.
The team that is sponsored by the Chinese car and truck manufacturer, Dongfeng Motor Corporation, has fought back after losing the lead it had held for two weeks and slipping to fourth place out of seven as the marathon leg from Lisbon to Cape Town continues on Day 17.
Caudrelier and his crew have put their foot down in heavy weather as they have rampaged across the southern Atlantic Ocean towards Cape Town and earlier today set a new 24-hour mileage record for this leg of 519 nautical miles at an impressive average speed of 21.6 knots.
This sort of performance has enabled Dongfeng to regain lost miles and places. She has now overtaken both Team Brunel, skippered by Bouwe Bekking, and Vestas 11th Hour Racing, skippered by Charlie Enright, and is currently in second place, 27 miles behind Caudrelier’s main rival, MAPFRE skippered by Xabi Fernandez.
Bruno Dubois, the Dongfeng Race Team director who has been watching the drama from on shore, says all the pre-race training over the summer is paying off as Dongfeng shows her speed in strong winds with less than 1,350 miles to sail to the leg finish under the shadow of Table Mountain.
“We found a couple of things during the summer about how to make the boat go fast in the breeze and that is exactly what we are doing now,” said Dubois.
“It is not a lot in performance terms – it’s about half a knot – but you can see that the crew on MAPFRE are doing the same – we both managed to find settings on the boat that make it go fast.”
Dubois is delighted that Caudrelier and navigator Pascal Bidegorry have found a way back into the podium places. But he says there is still plenty of uncertainty to come on this epic voyage from Europe to the tip of Africa with light winds spreading from behind the fleet and another patch of light winds ahead.
“You never know that is going to happen,” he said. “We could still win this leg or we could still finish fourth because it is so close between the boats. But the messages we are seeing from the guys on board show us that the spirit in the team is really strong and, as Stu Bannatyne would say, ‘it isn’t over, until it’s over.’”
In their latest interviews both Caudrelier and Bidegorry have been sounding positive and pleased with their progress as they drag-race against Vestas and Brunel in the battle for second place. “We have had a good 24 hours. It is not finished and we still have the conditions to keep going fast. We were fast compared to the other boats,” said Caudrelier. “We have no choice but to push. We are behind the guys so we will push. The situation was good to come back and we had good speed for sure.”
Bidegorry added: “It is important to push because behind us the conditions over the next 24 hours could be worse for boatspeed, so we have good speed and we are working hard on this. We were sailing close to Vestas and Brunel and when the wind was strong we had a high average speed which is interesting and good for us.”
In an interview from on board with the Chinese Olympic sailing gold medalist Lijia Xu, the Dutch trimmer and driver on Dongfeng, Carolijn Brouwer, was asked what had happened when Dongfeng lost places. “That’s what yacht racing is about,” she replied.
“Sometimes everybody makes mistakes and the winner is actually not the person who sailed the perfect race. The winner over the line is the person or the crew that makes the least mistakes. What we’re doing right now is heading east towards Cape Town under very nice conditions and the crew is just focused on sailing the boat as fast as they can to just try and get every mile back to our opponents.
“Everyone has their heads held high and is fighting really hard for every metre basically because there is still a long way to go to Cape Town and a lot could still happen, so we can still bounce back,” she added.
Brouwer explained that Dongfeng’s routing took her too close to the edge of the St Helena high pressure where light winds slowed the boat Chinese boat in comparison to rivals who were further west. “We got stuck in a little bit of a hole, swallowed up by the high pressure that we got too close to unfortunately,” she said.
The Dutch star said she is missing her son Kyle and the comforts of a soft and warm bed. “I’m looking forward to some clean clothes, some deodorant and to be able to put my head down on a really nice fluffy pillow with clean sheets,” she said.
Current ETA estimates suggest Dongfeng could reach the finish line at Cape Town in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Leg 2 – Lisbon to Cape Town – 21.11.17 at 1300 UTC
1. MAPFRE 🇪🇸 X.Fernández. Distance to finish (DTF): 1,329.4nm
2. Dongfeng Race Team 🇨🇳 C.Caudrelier. Distance to leader (DTL): 26.9nm
3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing 🇺🇸 C.Enright. DTL: 29.3nm
4. Team Brunel 🇳🇱 B.Bekking, DTL: 35.6nm
5. Team AkzoNobel 🇳🇱 S.Tienpoint. DTL: 75.1nm
6. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag 🇭🇰 D.Witt. DTL: 106.4nm
7. Turn the Tide of Plastic 🇫🇲 D.Caffari. DTL: 110.4nm