The crossing was followed shortly afterwards by a particularly solemn ceremony in which King Neptune – aka Stu Bannatyne – welcomed both bowman Jack Bouttell and OBR Jeremie Lecaudey to his realm.
There are no points on the scoreboard for crossing the Equator first but it was nevertheless a special moment for Caudrelier and his crew who have led this second leg almost continuously from the startline at Lisbon.
In the last couple of days, as the leaders have made their way through the Doldrums into the southeast trade winds, the fleet has compressed and MAPFRE in second position and Vestas 11th Hour Racing in third, have made big gains.
In the event Dongfeng crossed the world’s most famous line of latitude just 16 minutes ahead of Xabi Fernandez’s crew on MAPFRE. Charlie Enright and his team on Vestas were at the demarcation line between North and South only another 29 minutes later.
Caudrelier says the last few days have all been about dodging clouds in the battle with MAPFRE and trying not to lose out in this game of meteorological pot luck. “It’s been the same story since the start,” he said. “We’re in a speed game against MAPFRE.
“The good news is that we had a good cloud this morning that helped us to make a small gain. Since the start, each time we take a small advantage the fleet comes back with the clouds. In the Doldrums it was the same - MAPFRE nearly passed us in a cloud. But for sure this Doldrums was the easiest one I have crossed.”
It was only a few minutes after Dongfeng reached the southern hemisphere that Stu Bannatyne appeared on deck wearing a silver cardboard crown, carrying a staff made of a boathook and a toothbrush and wearing a cape and a black towel around his neck.
“A short time ago we crossed the Equator and with every Equator crossing there is a tradition to be upheld,” intoned Bannatyne who is on his eighth Volvo Ocean Race campaign. “Many team members on this yacht are already members of King Neptune’s realm but we have two crew members who are yet to join.”
Then with the assistance of his righthand women, Carolijn Brouwer, Jack and Jeremie had locks of hair cut from their heads and glued to their chests. Then they were covered in an evil-looking and evil-smelling “brew” that consisted of old frieze-dried food mixture and chopped up flying fish which had been stewing in 40-degree heat for four days. It was all done in good spirits.
Earlier Marie Riou, the French Olympic star and four-time NACRA-17 world champion, was forced to explain very clearly that she had indeed crossed the Equator before – on a Class 40 monohull – and thus could be spared King Neptune’s attentions. “Yes, it’s true I have already crossed the Equator – I’m sure – I’ve got the pictures,” she said when asked by her skipper.
Caudrelier seemed unconvinced but Riou got away with it. “I think she’s clever because she knows what could happen if she’s a rookie, so she made up a story,” joked Caudrelier.
After nine days at sea the Dongfeng skipper is enjoying life away from the constant background noise of news and social media. “It is really strange to be cut off from all the news of the world,” said Caudrelier. “In a time when we are all connected 24/7, having no news for 20 days is special. Sailing the Volvo Ocean Race is probably the only time where it happens.
“But that’s not too bad - no phone no internet for 20 days – it’s a good rest and for sure we speak more together on board than in any other place. On shore, even when we have time together, we spend so much time on our phones. We really discover people much more while sailing than on shore,” Caudrelier added.
Riou has been enjoying a freshwater shower during her first taste of a long offshore leg in the Volvo Ocean Race. “We have been sailing for a week now and it was high time to shower so it feels good and we feel ‘fresh’ for the rest of the leg,” she said.
“We would have liked to take a little more of a lead on our rivals entering the southern hemisphere,” she added. “We monitor them closely to see the angles and speeds and it pushes us to go as fast as possible. We concentrate on every detail, trying to make the most of the boat. With MAPFRE, Vestas and us, we may well create a little gap to the rest.”