Leg 6, Day 6: “Submarining” in the Philippine Sea as Dongfeng Race Team put the hammer down

“If you are not under water, it means you need to put up more sail – it’s a bit like that on board.” So says French bowman and Dongfeng Race Team’s very own “Mr Fixit” to sum up the approach to racing in strong northerly winds on the red and white boat – go as fast as possible for as long as possible and fight with MAPFRE every inch of the way.

Like the others in the leading group, Dongfeng – currently second to MAPFRE by a few hundred metres - has been rampaging on a power reach with the hull profile of the Volvo Ocean 65 and absence of cockpit protection ensuring that the crew are being continually hosed in cascades of warm water.

In slow-motion video the cockpit looks as though it is in the middle of blizzard of snow or perhaps the sailors are standing at the bottom of huge and powerful waterfall…either way speeds have been in the mid-20s, the miles to go column has been falling rapidly and the racing has been exceptionally tight.

Of course Team Brunel is sailing a good leg in third place, but the battle at the top of the leaderboard – and on the water – is once again between the two red boats with no quarter given by either crew.

“We are still with MAPFRE – they didn’t want to leave us,” joked Charles Caudrelier, the Dongfeng skipper. “I think everybody has tried to stay together because the situation is not clear and it is difficult to find a good position to cross the Doldrums.”

Caudrelier, who seems to be relishing the challenge of this leg, also revealed that for the last two days the team on the Chinese boat sponsored by Dongfeng Motor Corporation has been having problems trying to receive weather information. After four days without a forecast, Escoffier has managed to get the system working again.

In the meantime Caudrelier reckons it’s been as case of the blind leading the blind, as he explained. “What’s funny is that some boats are following us and every time we change our heading, they change theirs, but what they don’t know is that…we don’t know where to go because we have had no forecast nearly since day two.

“So we have been using the forecast from the start and us – we just want to stay with them because we don’t know what changes there have been. But now we have the forecast, we can see that we are in a good position but MAPFRE is still here, very close and still fighting for first place,” he added.

Watch captain and Vendee Globe star Jeremie Beyou has been loving the challenge of taking on the crew of MAPFRE in big-power conditions. “It’s really close with MAPFRE so when you are driving you really concentrate on going fast and following the good heading and not being slower than those guys,” he said. “It is a very, very close battle – it’s interesting but a little exhausting sometimes – at the end of your watch you are a bit tired and have a good sleep.”

While Beyou has been eating noodles for breakfast, Carolijn Brouwer has been enjoying a special muesli prepared for the team by Dongfeng’s Human Performance Manager, Neil Maclean-Martin. “I’m eating a big bowl of cereal specially made by Neil,” she said. “With lots of granola, lots of nuts and dried fruit – very nice!”

The next challenge is the transition between the northerly breeze and the northeast tradewind belt with winds expected to ease, skies to clear and the wind direction to move into the southeast and then east as the boats continue heading southeast towards the Equator.

Latest position report at 0700 UTC:

1. MAPFRE. DTF: 3,878.1nm
2. Dongfeng Race Team. DTL: 0.4nm
3. Team Brunel. DTL: 2.6nm
4. Turn the Tide on Plastic. DTL: 3.7nm
5. Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag. DTL: 32.4nm
6. Team AkzoNobel. DTL: 34.9nm
7. Vestas 11th Hour Racing. DNS.