The Volvo Ocean 65, Dongfeng, skippered by Charles Caudrelier of France, clinched a hard-fought class win in the 47th biennial Rolex Fastnet Race this morning at 04:18 UTC when it crossed the finish line off Plymouth breakwater.
After 2 days, 15 hours, 38 minutes and 10 seconds of intense racing, the red and white one-design, sponsored by Dongfeng Motor Corporation, finished just 56 seconds ahead of its Spanish rival MAPFRE, skippered by Xabi Fernández.
A relieved Charles Caudrelier said: “We had a great fight with MAPFRE and AkzoNobel. We were leading at the Fastnet Rock and during the downwind section after we rounded. Then, suddenly, big clouds crossed the course and we lost everything; we went from first to last…but another cloud helped us to come back.”
The Frenchman added: “What we have seen during this Fastnet Race is that there are strong teams and good navigators on many boats and it will be really very difficult to win the Volvo Ocean Race. But I am delighted to see that our work in training and the commitment from my crew has paid off in this race.”
The 605-mile Rolex Fastnet Race that started from Cowes on Sunday, is the second of four warm-up races in the so-called Leg Zero series for the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race which starts from Alicante in late October.
Dongfeng got the best start of the seven-strong fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s as they set off to windward out of the Solent. But from then on it was always a close-fought battle as the lead changed hands between Dongfeng and rivals AkzoNobel skippered by Simeon Tienpont and MAPFRE.
The Chinese boat, raced by an international crew and including two female sailors, eventually rounded the Fastnet Rock in the lead only to surrender the initiative to MAPFRE by the Isles of Scilly where the two boats battled stormy conditions for a couple of hours with gusts of over 30 knots.
“It was a very short race compared to most Volvo Ocean Race legs, but my feeling was that it was a very long one. I am dead,” joked Dongfeng navigator Pascal Bidégorry. “I ate nothing but one freeze-dried meal and two chocolate bars. I think we are going to fight a lot of times with MAPFRE, and with the other boats too. AkzoNobel, for example, were sometimes really fast,” he added.
Chen Jinhao, also known as Horace, was delighted to win the Fastnet in the Volvo Ocean 65 class at his first attempt. “This was my first time in the Fastnet Race and it feels amazing to win it. Racing to the rock was great and I was amazed by things such as the tide in the English Channel,” said the Chinese sailor who raced as bowman on Dongfeng.
“Everyone is very close and we were constantly fighting for position as we overtook others or they overtook us. We didn’t have the time to eat or sleep but it was very good,” he added.
The Leg Zero series, which does not count towards the scoring of the Volvo Ocean Race itself, now continues with two passage races. The first, from Plymouth to St Malo, starts on August 10th; the second from St Malo to Lisbon, starts on August 13th.
Ranking for the V065 fleet - Rolex Fastnet Race 2017
1 - Dongfeng Race Team (China), Charles Caudrelier, 04:18 UTC, 2d 15h 38m, 10s
2 - MAPFRE (Spain), Xabi Fernández, 04:19 UTC, 2d 15h 39m 6s
3 - Team Brunel (Netherlands), Bouwe Bekking, 04:25 UTC, 2d 15h 45m 47s
4 - AkzoNobel (Netherlands), Simeon Tienpont, 04 :32 UTC, 2d 15h 52m 40s
5 - Vestas-11th hour racing (USA/Denmark), Charlie Enright, 04 :49 UTC, 2d 16h 9m 11s
6 - Scallywag (Hong Kong), David Witt, 04 :53 UTC, 2d 16h 13m 53s
7 - Turn the Tide of Plastic (International), Dee Caffari, 04 :57 UTC, 2d 16h 17m 32s
Overall Leg Zero rankings after 2 of 4 stages
(Round The Island Race and Rolex Fastnet Race):
MAPFRE 15 points
Dongfeng Race Team 13
Team Brunel 13
team AkzoNobel 11
Vestas 11th Hour Racing 7
Turn the Tide on Plastic 6
Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag 5