Never before in the history of the Volvo Ocean Race or the Whitbread Round the World Race that preceded it, have three teams started the final leg tied on points.
But Dongfeng Race Team (which has 64 points but will be awarded an extra point at the finish for fastest elapsed time for the whole race), Team Brunel and MAPFRE all share 65 points. Their final finishing order at the end of Leg 11 from Gothenburg to the The Hague will determine the overall podium for this race.
Charles Caudrelier, the French skipper of Dongfeng Race Team, says he is confident his crew can pull this off on the 700-mile sprint to The Hague, the shortest of the 11 legs in this marathon race.
“I respect our opponents – they have both sailed fantastic races - but I am confident, that we can do this for our sponsors, Dongfeng Motor Corporation, and be the first Chinese-sponsored team to win this title,” he said taking a break from preparations for the leg start on Thursday.
‘”We have been better than MAPFRE and Team Brunel many times so yes, we can do it,” he continued. “Sometimes the race has been quite unfair to us and we have not had small pieces of luck – so we need to work for that and if we have it, we can beat them. We have done it many times in the past, so why not again?”
Caudrelier, whose team has scored six podium finished in nine legs, knows that this is arguably one of the greatest Volvo Ocean Race titles to win because of the extraordinarily close finish. After winning the trophy as part of Franck Cammas’s crew on Groupama in 2011-12, he is determined to achieve the same feat as skipper himself.
“Nobody could have imagined that three boats would have exactly the same points before the last leg, so it is very good for the race, though not very good for our nerves,” he quipped.
“But it is going to be an amazing finish and a very exciting one. It will be a great title to win because it is the first time that the boats have had to fight until the end. With the one-design aspect, we have had a huge fight over the last eight months and it has been one of the toughest Volvo Ocean Races, so to win this one will be amazing.”
The course to The Hague is going to be a tricky one with variable wind conditions, land and tidal effects and a turning mark – or “fly-by” - off the Danish city of Aarhus where fans will be able to come and watch the fleet as the final battle unfolds. The weather forecast suggests the leg will be dominated by northwesterly winds with a downwind start and then a beat back up the Danish coast before another run to the finish.
Caudrelier has compared this race-off for the title to the Golden Goal in football when the first team to score in extra time takes the spoils. That means huge pressure on the crew, but the Dongfeng Race Team skipper believes they have what it takes.
“I have told them to just do what we have learnt during the last eight months,” he said. “We will also have to think about all the sacrifices we have made and all the work we have done to be here. Probably our rivals deserve to win too but I think Dongfeng Race Team has a nice story – the first team to train and prepare and the team that has worked longer than anybody – I hope we will reach our goal because I think we deserve it,” Caudrelier added.
The Dongfeng crew for this leg includes Chinese sailor Chen Jinhao, aka Horace, who is back on in place of Xue Liu (Black). Also back on board is the Volvo Ocean Race veteran, Stu Bannatyne, who replaces Fabien Delahaye. As usual the team includes Dutch sailor Carolijn Brouwer who will be sailing back home on this leg and who will become one of only three crew on Dongfeng – the others are bowman Jack Bouttell and Caudrelier himself – to have completed every leg of this race.
Brouwer has achieved a lot in professional sailing but nothing matches this moment. “I think I can easily say this is probably the most important race of my life,” she said. “I have done a lot of Olympic racing and this is my third Volvo Ocean Race, but never have I been in this position. I don’t think anyone has; it doesn’t matter how many Volvo Ocean Races you have won or how many gold medals you have or how many Atlantic crossings, no one has ever been in this position in the Volvo Ocean Race.”
She is predicting a nail-biting battle to the line. “We are definitely going to see aggressive racing, we have to,” Brouwer continued. “It is an all-or-nothing leg and the sailors on each of the three top boats - Brunel, MAPFRE and ourselves - know that we have to nail this one. We don’t have to win the leg, we just have to be in front of those two boats in the fleet and nothing else matters.”
Horace knows there is much more at stake than just winning. “If we win the race it will be amazing for sailing for China,” he said. “It will change the future and help with everything that we are trying to do and create an impact.
“I just think about my sailing school at home that I have created since the last race and how much the kids will love it if we win and how inspirational that will be for them,” he added. “I have had lots of messages from students, my family and many more who support me and are behind me in China and that is a good start. Everyone is learning quickly about this race and about sailing, so I want to keep moving and make a good target for them in the future.”
Jack Bouttell, meanwhile, is convinced the Dongfeng team has the self-belief it needs to prevail. “Everything is there, so it is all about not doubting ourselves,” he said. “Remember the first legs - the only boat people talked about as a potential winner was MAPFRE but even then we had no doubts that we could do it. We were always there or there-abouts. This is about fighting; everything is in place, so we just need to take it on.”
The leg start on Thursday is at 12.00 UTC. The fleet is expected to arrive at the finish in The Hague on June 24th. Dongfeng Race Team is committed to trying to win the Volvo Ocean Race and also to help develop the sport of offshore sailing in China.
- Charles Caudrelier (FRA), skipper
- Pascal Bidégorry (FRA), navigator
- Daryl Wislang (NZL), watch Captain
- Carolijn Brouwer (NED), trimmer
- Jackson Bouttell (ENG/AUS), bowman
- Kevin Escoffier (FRA), bowman
- Stu Bannatyne (NZL), watch Captain
- Marie Riou (FRA), triimmer
- Jinhao Chen (CHN), bowman
- Martin Keruzore (FRA), on board reporter
Overall leaderboard after 10 legs: