The selections are part of planned crew rotations among the 12-strong male and female international squad led by Charles Caudrelier of France, that is sponsored by the Chinese truck and car manufacturer Dongfeng Motor Corporation, and is lying third overall after two legs
Escoffier, aged 37, originally from St Malo, is one of the world’s top all-rounders in professional sailing and an expert on composite construction and racing yacht design who will sail as a driver and bowman on Dongfeng. His selection for the 6,500-mile stage to Melbourne marks a return to the team that he sailed with in every leg of the last Volvo Ocean Race in 2014-15.
Xue Liu/Black who hails from China’s sailing city of Qingdao, was among the most talented young Chinese sailors trained and selected for Dongfeng Race Team in the build-up to the last race when he sailed on four legs including the Southern Ocean leg from New Zealand to Brazil.
Since then he has matured as a sailor and competitor and has skippered his own boats in the China Cup and Sinan Cup regattas in China. Still aged just 24, Black returns to the team as pitman for the leg to Australia.
Commenting on the return of Escoffier, who proved invaluable in the last race when his on-board repairs included work on a broken deck fitting, a broken mast track and a faulty water-maker, Caudrelier said he was a key member of the Dongfeng Race Team crew.
“Kevin gives us so much – he is one of our best drivers, especially in strong winds, and a first-class bowman,” said Caudrelier. “We also know from the last race that he can be very useful if things go wrong with the boat, so I am delighted to welcome him back to this campaign.”
Caudrelier has been hugely impressed by Black’s development as a young star of Chinese sailing. “He is the kind of guy who is very impressive because, even in a tricky or stressful situation, he always stays quiet and reacts well,” he said. “This is what is important and I trust him to do the job perfectly. I know that even in the worst conditions he will do the job perfectly and will not make any mistakes.”
Escoffier, who works as Head of Design at Banque Populaire, is relishing the chance to get back on board the red and white Volvo Ocean 65 after following the first two legs on the tracker.
“So far we have seen that the team is quite fast and has been sailing very well,” he said. “It has been able to lead the race on Leg 2 for a while and, apart from a little mistake on one gybe, I think they could have won that leg. So I am very happy to re-join the team in a very good third place overall even if there are still a few details to work on to grab the first place on the podium.”
Black can’t wait to get back into the Southern Ocean. “I think I am perfectly ready for this leg,” he said. “Last time I was not so sure. I am not feeling super-nervous – I am feeling really relaxed and looking forward to the challenge.”
He knows that there will be some difficult days ahead as the boats race in some of the most inhospitable waters on the planet. “Sometimes it is not enjoyable because, for sure, it can be tough on board but you say ‘never give up.’ That is not for me, it is for the team and for the skipper and for all the people who have supported me; you have to be strong mentally even when you are not enjoying it,” he added.
The two sailors staying ashore for this leg – and who will both return to the crew later in the race - are the French Vendee Globe star Jérémie Beyou and the Chinese bowman Chen Jinhao or Horace.
The full crew for leg 3:
Charles Caudrelier (FRA) skipper; Pascal Bidégorry (FRA) navigator, Stu Bannatyne (NZL) watch captain; Daryl Wislang (NZL) watch captain; Jack Bouttell (GBR/AUS) bowman; Kevin Escoffier (FRA) bowman; Marie Riou (FRA) trimmer; Carolijn Brouwer (NED) trimmer; Lue Liu/Black (CHN) pitman.
The next action in the race is the Cape Town In-Port race on Friday, followed by the Leg 3 start on Sunday.