This race will be super-stressful – Caudrelier
Charles Caudrelier, the skipper of Dongfeng in the Volvo Ocean Race, has been around the planet a few times but five days into the first big offshore test of this race, he has already seen enough to know it is going to be a hard nine months of racing.
“This race will be super-stressful, we knew it,” said the Frenchman as Dongfeng held the lead in the seven-strong fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s after five days of intense racing on the epic 7,000-nautical mile stage from Lisbon to Cape Town.
“The boats are close with four a little more at the top level,” added Caudrelier in a reference to MAPFRE, AkzoNobel, Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Dongfeng. “It’s played out metre-by-metre – every mistake is expensive.”
After finishing third in Leg 1, Caudrelier led his team to an impressive start to the second leg from the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, as they led out of the Tagus River.
After a wild first night in the Atlantic when the crews saw more than 30 knots of wind and up to 37 knots of boatspeed, the opening phase of the race has seen the fleet rampaging downwind in front of a strong northeasterly trade wind.
Dongfeng has been leading for much of the time and has also often been the most westerly boat – an important strategic element in a race where picking a fast lane through the Doldrums is likely to be critical to the final outcome.
A key moment came when Dongfeng gybed to pass west of Madeira, leading the way as she did so and then finding better angles and better wind conditions than her rivals on the righthand side of the course. Since then the red and white Volvo Ocean 65 sponsored by Dongfeng Motor Corporation has always been at or near the front.
Right now Caudrelier and navigator Pascal Bidegorry are concentrating on trying to pick their way through a weakening easterly breeze as they head towards the Doldrums, now less than 600m miles due south of them.
Dongfeng Race Team had a very good start leaving Lisbon and during the first night we had strong winds and we did a lot of manoeuvering and gybing to try to be the fastest and lead the fleet,” summarised Chinese crew member Chen Jinhao or Horace.
“Now the fleet is compressing and the boats are coming together again – we are still fighting for first place and we are working to stay there and hopefully we can get to Cape Town first,” he added.
The game has changed from the fast sailing of the first few days to the more tricky business of trying to play the shifts in lighter winds and avoid wind holes and headers under clouds or losing out to boats making gains under them.
“We had AkzoNobel 12 miles behind us and we saw him catching a cloud and in one hour we lost 10 miles and 20 miles in two hours,” said Caudrelier. “Gybing has been really, really hard because it means you have to change all the sails from one side to the other, so it’s a big job and it’s not easy. When you are going fast it’s not easy because the deck is full of water.”
In light winds, Caudrelier explained, helming Dongfeng is not as much fun as when she is fully powered up. “When you have been going faster it is really hard to drive in the light air and the swell is still here, so we have waves which are stronger than the wind. Driving is not the (best) part of the job today – it’s quite boring and you need a lot of concentration. The weather has become very hot, so nobody is fighting to drive now.”
Earlier, much of the credit for Dongfeng’s blistering downwind speed was being heaped on veteran Volvo Ocean Race sailor Stu Bannatyne who is taking part in his eighth edition of this marathon classic.
The crew on the Chinese-sponsored one-design have dubbed Bannatyne “Magic Stu.” “When its heavy weather downwind sailing – that’s the man you want on the wheel,” said trimmer Carolijn Brouwer. “Yeah, the boat just smokes when he is driving.”
Bannatyne explained his method: “There’s definitely a lot of technique to driving well in heavy airs, especially at night,” he said. “It’s mainly about trying to be accurate with small movements. It’s a bit like driving a car really fast – you just use small movements on the wheel.” He added that in the darkness he has been using the stars to help him steer.
Caudrelier is delighted to have Bannatyne’s skills at his disposal and to help Dongfeng stay right at the front of the fleet on this key leg. “I think (his speed) is because he spent hours and hours sailing the Volvo and it’s the best school to learn,” Caudrelier said.
Dongfeng Race Team, is committed to developing the sport of offshore sailing in China and has been training and preparing for the race since late last year. The team consists of a 12-strong multi-national male and female sailing squad, plus full shore and support teams.
The crew selected for Leg 2 comprises Caudrelier (skipper), Pascal Bidégorry (navigator), Stuart Bannatyne (watch captain), Jérémie Beyou (watch captain), Carolijn Brouwer (trimmer), Jack Bouttell (bowman), Chen Jinhao ‘Horace’ (bowman), Marie Riou (trimmer) and Daryl Wislang (watch captain).
Leg 2 – Lisbon to Cape Town – 09.11.17 at 1300 UTC
1. Dongfeng Race Team 🇨🇳 C.Caudrelier, 4 357 to finish
2. Vestas 11th Hour Racing 🇺🇸 C.Enright, 5.5nm to the leader
3. Team AkzoNobel 🇳🇱 S.Tienpoint, 10,1nm
4. MAPFRE 🇪🇸 X.Fernández, 10,2nm
5. Team Brunel 🇳🇱 B.Bekking, 12,7nm
6. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag 🇭🇰 D.Witt, 48,3nm
7. Turn the Tide of Plastic 🇫🇲 D.Caffari, 79,7nm