Leg 6, Day 3: Dongfeng “chugging along” and looking good east of Taiwan

The news on Day 3 of Leg 6 is that there is now a big separation in the six-strong fleet with two boats – SHK/Scallywag and Team AkzoNobel - opting to head more inshore along the east coast of Taiwan, while the rest are on a parallel course, but 90 miles to the southeast.

This is quite a big move that leaves the Scallywag and Akzo inside the Sakishima Islands and currently in fifth and sixth places, 73 and 82 miles behind the leg leader Team Brunel. It will be interesting to see whether their early decision to split pays off, or whether they have made their course longer than it might otherwise have been with no consequent gain.

In the more easterly group Dongfeng is handily placed. She is ranked second just half a mile behind Brunel. But she is the most northerly of the four boats and, at the latest position report, was 1.5 miles ahead of MAPFRE in third position with Turn the Tide on Plastic another eight miles back in fourth.

After continuing on an easterly heading for around 125 miles, following rounding the southern tip of Taiwan, Dongfeng and her closest rivals took a sharp turn to the northeast and are now sailing with sheets eased at 14 knots of boatspeed in 20 knots of east-southeast breeze. The gameplan is to get north and east to sail over the top of a developing area of light winds before the crews can turn their bows down again to head towards the Equator.

At times this has been a very tough opening few days with heavy upwind conditions when the breeze has touched 40 knots, with the boats slamming and crashing and the sailors struggling to sleep and find their rhythm on board.

On Dongfeng Xue Liu (Black) admitted he had not been able to get any hot food down since leaving Hong Kong and has been waiting for conditions to ease before he starts to eat properly.

French Olympic star, Marie Riou, who is back on board after missing Leg 4, seemed to have found her feet quickly enough.

“Finally we did a lot of manoeuvres - we didn’t have so much wind last night and the sea state was OK,” she said taking a break from the cockpit. “But I think the next night close to Taiwan will be a lot more difficult, so we are on standby for the next manoeuvres and the wind will increase soon. So I need to eat to take in more energy – I’m ready!”

Dutch sailor Caroline Brouwer, one of the few crew on Dongfeng who has not missed a leg in the race so far, is well aware that this is another long and arduous voyage when consistency of performance over two weeks will be key to a good result.

“It’s been alright,” she said while trimming the headsail. “The whole fleet’s been together and we’ve just been upwind or cracked off – there are not large speed differences so everyone is hanging together and yeah, you look at each other – when does one do a sail change and when does the other do a change.

“We are just trying to do our job as best as possible, as neat as possible and not make any mistakes, so we are just chugging along,” she added. “It’s a very long leg and this is only just the beginning and we’ve got to keep everything and everyone in one piece and look at the next two weeks.”

Latest position report at 0700 UTC:

1. Team Brunel. DTF: 4, 872.8nm
2. Dongfeng Race Team. DTL: 0.6nm
3. MAPFRE. DTL: 1.5nm
4. Turn the Tide on Plastic. DTL: 8.2nm
5. Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag. DTL: 72.8nm
6. Team AkzoNobel. DTL: 82nm
7. Vestas 11th Hour Racing. DNS