Christmas on the other side of the world for UBOX-Dongfeng Race Team in the Sydney-Hobart race

Charles Caudrelier, the skipper of Dongfeng Race Team in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, is making his final preparations for his first attempt at one of the most famous challenges in world sailing - the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.

With a mixed Chinese and international crew on the Cookson 50 UBOX, the Frenchman, who skippered the first Dongfeng campaign to third place overall in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, has been back in Sydney this week preparing for the 72nd edition of the 628-nautical mile classic.

“It’s great to be here and to take part in this incredible race,” said Caudrelier who will lead a crew of 12 on UBOX when they set sail with 90 other yachts from Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day. The team on the Chinese boat is made up of some potential members of the new Dongfeng Race Team and some younger, less experienced, Chinese sailors from the UBOX crew.
“I never quite realised just how famous the Sydney Hobart is in Australia and I am looking forward to seeing the start on Monday,” added Caudrelier. “I knew it was a fantastic race but when you see the weather forecast, it reminds you that it is one of the toughest races – even if it only lasts three days.”

The Sydney Hobart has a fearsome reputation despite its relatively short course down the coast of New South Wales and then across Bass Strait because the fleet often encounters vicious headwinds and big seas kicked up by a south-going counter-current. In past races this has proved a boat-breaking combination.

The Dongfeng Race Team tie-up with the UBOX owner Wang Bin, who will be in Sydney to see the crew off, is part of Dongfeng’s mission to help grow the sport of offshore sailing in China. Caudrelier says the Sydney Hobart could be the stepping stone to further co-operation in future with the Chinese vending machine entrepreneur who is an accomplished round-the-world sailor in his own right.

“What we are trying to do is create a partnership with UBOX and in the future maybe we can help more Chinese sailors to improve and make progress,” said Caudrelier. “This race is a great opportunity for us to help young Chinese sailors and help develop offshore sailing in China, which is part of the spirit of Dongfeng Race Team.”

The UBOX crew, which includes the young French sailor Fabien Delahaye, the Volvo Ocean Race veteran Thomas Rouxel, local Sydney solo sailor Jack Bouttell and the French dinghy champion Marie Riou, will have their work cut-out to do well in a competitive fleet. UBOX is one of three Cookson 50s, one of which – Victoire – was the overall winner of the race on handicap in 2013.

Caudrelier wants to sail as competitively as possible but he knows that his young and inexperienced crew, together with the language barrier, means they will have to sail within themselves if the going gets tough.

“The goal is the goal of every team and every boat – to finish the race – which is not easy because lots of people have failed in the past,” he explained. “I know we can perform – but we are, for sure, not as good as some of our rivals because my team is low on experience. So it will not be easy and we will have to sail safely if conditions get tough because if there is any trouble then communication on board will be a challenge.”

Assisting Caudrelier in this area will be Jiru Jang, aka Wolf, one of the two Chinese “rookies” who sailed regularly on Dongfeng in the last Volvo Ocean Race. Aged 26 from Anshan City in China, Wolf completed five legs of the last race and is currently studying for a master’s degree in Sydney.

“I had obviously heard a lot about this race over the last few years but I have never had the chance to do it,” he said. “It is a fantastic race and I hope I can help the others on board. I will do my best to pass on to the new Chinese sailors the knowledge that I learnt on the Volvo Ocean Race.”

The early forecasts for the race suggest a fast passage with potentially downwind conditions in the early stages, then a power-reach in up to 35 knots across Bass Strait towards the finish at Hobart.

The Sydney Hobart is the final part of the preparation, crew selection and training phase for Caudrelier’s team prior to the completion of the re-fit of Dongfeng – the team’s Volvo Ocean 65. The boat will be re-launched in mid-January and has been the first of the Volvo fleet to go through the major overhaul programme at the official Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard facility in Lisbon in Portugal and the team will be able to start sea trials in February.

“We will be the first boat to be finished which is good because the Boatyard team is fresh and motivated,” said Caudrelier, who visited the facility immediately prior to flying out to Sydney. “I am very happy that we can be the first on the water and can focus on the sailing now,” he added.

Ubox – Dongfeng Race Team crew list:
Charles Caudrelier, co-skipper
Lei Wang, co-skipper
Thomas Rouxel
Jackson Bouttel
Marie Riou
Fabien Delahaye
Jiru Yang aka Wolf
Deli Zheng
Zongru Zou aka Zack
Chuanbao Zhao aka Brian
Liguo Zhang
Bo Wu (OBR)