Sanya (China) – January 27, 2015 – 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.