BACK IN THE RACE
For five of the Volvo Ocean Race teams the stopover at Itajai in Brazil served as a welcome chance to enjoy some rest after the rigours of the Southern Ocean. For the Dongfeng team it was a race against time to get their dismasted boat to Itajai from Ushuaia and then install a replacement mast and get everything ready for racing in time for the re-start.
The Dongfeng shore crew, sailors, managers and logistics experts pulled out all the stops, once again demonstrating that the character and quality of a team is never better displayed than in adversity. Graham Tourrell, the Dongfeng Boat Captain, had no plans to miss the deadline. “We have a responsibility and that is to deliver a boat to our sailors,” he said as he handed it back to Charles Caudrelier.
The 5,000-mile leg six from Itajai to Newport, Rhode Island, saw a return to the light airs and tricky weather transitions that typify the modern Volvo Ocean Race, conditions that Dongfeng excels in. But the early stages of the leg, as the crews headed north up the Brazilian coast, was dominated on the Chinese boat by the failure of the main watermaker, without which the crew could not survive.
Once again Kevin Escoffier came to the rescue, masterminding an ambitious repair. “I have no idea how long this will hold but what we have in place has worked,” said a relieved Escoffier. “The stress of not having any water to drink was a huge weight on all our shoulders – we would have had to make a”
The racing was again incredibly close with Dongfeng trailing in fifth place then working her way up to lead by day 7 before losing out under windless clouds. “I’m very upset but we keep fighting, we keep focused,” commented Chen Jinhao (Horace). At this stage another problem for all the crews including Dongfeng was seaweed wrapping itself around the keel and foils requiring elaborate efforts to remove it.
The lead constantly changed hands but Dongfeng grabbed it again on day 14, when Caudrelier and Pascal Bidégorry elected briefly to gybe away from the bunch and made swift gains. The crew then managed to hold the initiative for the last 1,100 miles all the way to the finish.
During that time there were transitions between weather systems when the fleet concertinaed, there were calm patches and there was the Gulf Stream to contend with. All the time, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) was again breathing down Dongfeng’s neck. “The last 24 hours of this leg are going to be a nightmare – it’s going to be very difficult to stay ahead of the other boats,” said Caudrelier. But stay ahead they did, using Dongfeng’s now well-established superior boat speed in light winds.
In the end they reached Newport after 17 days, nine hours and three minutes and just three minutes and 25 seconds ahead of ADOR. An exhausted but elated Caudrelier had no hesitation in dedicating Dongfeng’s second stage win to his gallant shore team who had made it possible in the first place. Escoffier was delighted to be back in the hunt. “Now we still have to push hard – this was the first step to come back in the race after the eight points we got for breaking the mast,” he said.
THE LAST MEN STANDING – CAUDRELIER ON THE EXHAUSTION OF AN EPIC RACE
Last night we crossed the famous Doldrums. It announced itself with a huge squall. Two hours of flat sea and 30-35 knots of wind - 31 knots of max boat speed - my record on this boat. Anyway, we’ve come out of the last squall and thank goodness.
In other news I am feeling tired, or rather, worn out. This is our 6th leg of 20 days in length and this one has come right after the stressful Southern Ocean leg. Just like on the last Volvo we’re feeling the pain but I’m not too worried. It’s not just us - it’s the same on the other boats too.
When a competitor comes up to you on the dock and says ‘this is my last leg ever in the Volvo – never again,’ while he’s fighting for the victory, you know that, he too, is struggling and not even trying to hide it. We can’t lie to each other on this race - it breaks you down little by little. The legs get harder, little by little even though they become shorter.
The end of this race will be won by the last men standing. At this stage a bad result becomes harder and harder to accept and could kill the little energy we have left.