Leg 2, Day 19: Dongfeng battles with Vestas in the final stages before the mountain

Like all the other skippers in this Volvo Ocean Race, Charles Caudrelier is slightly dreading his upcoming encounter with Table Mountain, the iconic peak that overlooks Cape Town and the finish line of this marathon 7,000-mile Leg 2 from Lisbon.

As the boats get ever closer to the finish the big worry is that windless conditions in Table Bay under the shadow of the flat-topped mountain will lead to a park-up that could determine the final positions on the podium.

This morning Dongfeng is still making excellent progress towards the finish with around 560 nautical miles to sail and making 13 knots of boatspeed in a moderate southerly breeze.

The red and white Chinese Volvo Ocean 65 is in the heart of the leading group which has every prospect of carrying freshening southeasterly winds right up to the South African coast.

Dongfeng is currently the windward boat of the leading three with MAPFRE, skippered by Xabi Fernandez, now 25 miles ahead and Vestas 11th Hour Racing, skippered by Charlie Enright, around nine miles north of her but only about four miles behind in terms of distance to the finish.

In fourth place it’s Team Brunel skippered by Bouwe Bekking who is more than 35 miles behind Vestas. After that come the three remaining boats who have fallen into a spreading zone of light winds and are now haemorrhaging miles to the leaders. Team AkzoNobel is in fifth place but now 285 miles behind MAPFRE. Current routing suggests those three boats are going to have to sail more than 400 miles further than the leaders in the next few days as they head south to find the new wind.

So it looks as though the pecking order is forming even if Dongfeng is going to have to fend off Vestas all the way. But Caudrelier is still concerned about that mountain. “In Cape Town you have a fantastic mountain called Table Mountain,” he said with a big smile while working the cockpit grinder. “Very famous – but the wind don’t like the mountain because the (finish) comes to the bottom of the mountain and there is no wind when we arrive.”

Stu Bannatyne, the Kiwi seven-time Volvo Ocean Race veteran who has played a key role with his heavy weather driving skills on this leg, summarised the challenge of the final stages for Dongfeng as she continued eastwards under grey skies towards the African coast.

“Obviously we were pretty disappointed to fall behind from a controlling position, but just hard work from all the team has got us back into it and we’ve got a real race on our hands now with Vestas who are just a few miles behind us,” he said. “MAPFRE are a decent chunk ahead but certainly not out of reach (at that point they were 18 miles ahead). As we know, in the final day or two into Cape Town, the weather can do all sorts of interesting things, but we remain positive and we just keep chipping away,” he added.

Leg 2 – Lisbon to Cape Town – 23.11.17 at 1300 UTC

1. MAPFRE, X.Fernández, distance to finish (DTF) 1,329.4nm

2. Dongfeng Race Team, C.Caudrelier, distance to leader (DTL) 25,2nm

3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing, C.Enright, DTL 29,1nm

4. Team Brunel, B.Bekking, DTL 67,6nm

5. Team AkzoNobel, S.Tienpoint, DTL 285,4nm

6. Turn the Tide of Plastic, D.Caffari, 288,2nm

Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, D.Witt, STM