Dongfeng slipped back to sixth place in the first few hours of the race as the fleet tip-toed out of the Bristol Channel in very light wind. But skipper Charles Caudrelier and navigator Pascal Bidegorry spotted more tide and more breeze on the left of the course and headed away from the boats inshore. It proved an excellent decision.
As dusk fell on a beautiful day off the Welsh coast, Dongfeng steadily overhauled the leaders and moved to the front of the fleet, as summarised by Chinese sailor Xue Liu, aka Black.
“We are trying to stay in the middle of the Channel because there is more current for us and the group inshore has very light wind, so we try to stay in the middle where there is more wind on the lefthand side – so it’s quite a good moment for us,” he said.
The successful early stages of this leg will have calmed nerves on Dongfeng on a short and intense stage that the team would dearly love to win. At the very least they will want to get into Gothenburg ahead of both MAPFRE and Team Brunel, their rivals for overall victory in this race.
This morning the boats are making swift progress across the Celtic Sea and are about 50 miles east of the Fastnet Rock with Dongfeng leading from Team Brunel (+2.4), then Team AkzoNobel (+4.1) and then MAPFRE (+4.2).
The backmarker is Team Sun Hung Kai Scallywag which was forced to anchor overnight to avoid being swept eastwards by the flood tide. She is now 104 miles off the pace.
The early photos and video from Dongfeng show Charles and Pascal spending time together on deck checking the breeze on the water with Jack Bouttell on the wheel.
In the lightest airs some of the crew have been spending time on the bow helping to make sure the back of the boat is as light as possible and not creating drag. At one point Fabien Delahaye, Daryl Wislang, Black and Justine Mettraux were there altogether.
Up ahead it looks like a long beat up the Irish coast when the trick will be to stay quite close inshore to avoid lighter winds out to sea. The later stages of the leg are likely to see much stronger air from the southwest as a big Atlantic depression moves across the course.