Dongfeng set sail on this 5,700-nautical mile leg with a one-point lead over Spanish rivals MAPFRE and so far the Chinese team, sponsored by Dongfeng Motor Corporation, has been well ahead of Xabi Fernandez’s crew as the fleet has made its way into the northern hemisphere.
Today the boats are around 300 miles east of Barbados and powering north towards the eastern tip of Puerto Rico at 20 knots of boatspeed in warm conditions, driven by powerful northeast Trade Winds. Dongfeng is in second place, about 19 miles behind the leg leader Team Brunel, with MAPFRE back in fifth position, another 50 miles behind.
“We are in good spirits – we have the feeling that the further we get with this race, the more we feel we can do it,” said Caudrelier, sitting at the navigation station on Dongfeng. “However, the pressure is mounting too. The stakes are higher and we know that we can’t really afford to make mistakes any more.
“Every point counts,” he added. “We are so close to MAPFRE on the overall scoreboard and there are still three legs to go after this one and Brunel is coming back strongly. We are effectively at the head of the fleet and we have to focus on holding onto our position – we could lose it all.”
Caudrelier and navigator Pascal Bidegorry have been reflecting on their decision several days ago to gybe to the west of the fleet for the crossing of the Doldrums. They hoped that this would give them more breeze through the transition to the Trade Winds but this has not been the case.
Right now Dongfeng is still the most westerly boat of the seven in the fleet and is about 18 miles west of Team Brunel and around 30 miles west of the track of Vestas 11th Hour Racing and MAPFRE who are on the eastern flank.
“We’ve had mixed results from our westerly option,” reflected Caudrelier. “We really wanted to invest in the West for our positioning further down the track, but ultimately it caused us to lose ground on the front runners. We have managed to catch up, but we didn’t have luck on our side in the Doldrums because we had hoped to have much more wind than the others, but it wasn’t the case.”
The Dongfeng skipper knows MAPFRE is a continued threat, even if that crew has had a difficult time over the past three legs. After the failure of their mast track in Leg 7, they have been contending with electrical problems with their canting keel and have also had to repair a broken steering cable. But Caudrelier is also concerned about Team Brunel which won Leg 7 through the Southern Ocean and is up ahead again, assisted by the presence on board of Kiwi America’s Cup-winning skipper Peter Burling.
“Brunel is solid because they’ve got nothing to lose. They’ve made a lot of progress. They’ve got Peter Burling and everyone knows there’s nobody better for getting a boat to make fast headway. Added to that, it’s one of the fastest boats in the fleet, which gives them an advantage,” said Caudrelier.
The finish at Newport is expected in five or six days but it looks like being a light wind affair which could test nerves and even turn the race order inside out. Caudrelier is wary of being caught out and says he would be happy with another podium on this leg. “It could all change in the last few miles in such a random system,” he warned.
Carolijn Brouwer, one of two female sailors on this leg, alongside Marie Riou, admits she would love to see Dongfeng finally win a leg at Newport. “All the boats are pushing really hard,” she said. “Obviously we want this win into Newport more than ever. Dongfeng won into Newport in the last race and we haven’t won a leg in this race yet, so it will be a nice one to win,” she said.
Dongfeng Race Team is competing in it second successive Volvo Ocean Race, having finished in third place overall in 2014-15. The team is aiming to improve on that performance in this edition and is also committed to helping to develop the sport of offshore ocean racing in China.
Position report at 10h04UTC:
1 - Team Brunel 1 922 from Newport
2 - Dongfeng Race Team 21.5nm from the leader
3 - Turn The Tide of Plastic 31.6nm
4 - Vestas 11th Hour 41.01nm
5 - MAPFRE 65.7nm
6 - AkzoNobel 94.02nm
7 - Scallywag 230nm