Leg by leg summary

The story of China’s historic first win in the Volvo Ocean Race.


Distance: 1,650 nautical miles

Dongfeng finished 3rd

Crew: Charles Caudrelier (FRA, skipper), Pascal Bidégorry (FRA, navigator), Stuart Bannatyne (NZL, watch captain), Daryl Wislang (NZL, watch captain), Jérémie Beyou (FRA, pitman), Marie Riou (FRA, trimmer), Carolijn Brouwer (NED, trimmer), Chen Jinhao ‘Horace’ (CHN, bowman), Jack Bouttell (AUS-GBR, bowman).

After months of training and preparation, the start of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race finally arrived and the red and white Volvo Ocean 65 sponsored by Dongfeng Motor Corporation lined up alongside her six rivals before packed crowds off the Spanish resort of Alicante.

The goal for the team led by Charles Caudrelier of France in its second successive Volvo Ocean Race campaign was to try to win this edition. But everyone knew the opposition was going to be tough, especially the Spanish crew on the “other red boat”, MAPFRE, skippered by Xabi Fernandez.

After a hectic start, Dongfeng got away well and was well-placed in the early stages on the way towards the Gibralter Strait in light airs, but this leg was to prove unexpectedly challenging for the Chinese-flagged team.

Late on the first day, Dongfeng hit something in the water and this affected boatspeed. Then in the Gibralter Strait there was another collision, with the crew forced to stop the boat and let her drift backwards to free a large fish.

All in all, these early trials contrived to drop Dongfeng to seventh place at one point. Caudrelier and his team knew they were in battle just to salvage a reasonable finish to this opening leg as they exited the Strait and then headed towards the turning mark at Porto Santo island, northeast of Madeira in light winds. Dongfeng was leading the second group of boats behind the front-runners, Vestas 11th Hour Racing, MAPFRE and Team AkzoNobel.

In the final downwind section of the race up to the Portuguese capital, Dongfeng managed to overtake Team AkzoNobel and sneaked across the finish line of an exhausting first leg in third place behind leg winner Vestas 11th Hour Racing and second-placed MAPFRE.

It had not been the start to the race that Caudrelier was hoping for and he felt that he and navigator Pascal Bidegorry had not made the right decisions when boatspeed was an issue after the first collision. “Everybody came back on us and passed us on the left and the right,” he said. “We were quite slow and after that we started to make bad decisions because when you are slow it does not always make you clever.”

After this start to the campaign everyone involved with Dongfeng Race Team knew they had a real battle on their hands against some formidable opponents. At that stage Vestas and MAPFRE looked strong but Team Brunel would take many more months to hit her stride.


Distance: 7,000 nautical miles

Dongfeng finished 2nd

Crew: Charles Caudrelier (FRA, skipper), Pascal Bidegorry (FRA, navigator), Stuart Bannatyne (NZL, watch captain), Daryl Wislang (NZL, watch captain), Jérémie Beyou (FRA, pitman), Marie Riou (FRA, trimmer), Carolijn Brouwer (NED, trimmer), Chen Jinhao ‘Horace’ (CHN, bowman), Jack Bouttell (AUS-GBR, bowman).

Dongfeng dominates only to lose out in the south Atlantic

After the disappointment of finishing in third place in Leg 1, Dongfeng Race Team was eager to get going on the second-longest leg of the race from Lisbon to Cape Town.

This 7,000-mile voyage down the Atlantic and through the Doldrums was the first oceanic leg of the race and it started with strong conditions off the Portuguese coast and then a fast run to the Equator.

Dongfeng Race Team quickly showed their pace and led almost continually during the first two weeks with MAPFRE chasing and Vestas 11th Hour Racing not far behind. The pecking order of top boats - which was joined later in the race by Team Brunel - was being established.

At the Equator King Neptune, aka Stu Bannatyne, appeared on Dongfeng looking suitably impressive with a crown and scepter and it was bowman Jack Bouttell who got the treatment as the only first-timer sailing across the world’s most famous line of latitude. Predictably, Bouttell was covered in a horrible potion cooked up by the King in the tropical heat.

The Doldrums crossing was quick and relatively straightforward. It was in the southern hemisphere that the racing became increasingly tactical as the boats gybed down the South American coast trying to get around the St Helena high and then pick up a frontal system heading east towards South Africa.

Having led for so long, Charles Caudrelier and his crew saw their lead dwindle and then disappear during a critical 24 hours off the Brazilian coast when she strayed a little too close to the light winds on the western edge the high pressure zone and lost position, dropping from first to fourth.

But from then the fight back was underway as Dongfeng rampaged across the southern Atlantic towards Table Bay, setting a leg 24-hour distance record of 519 miles at an average speed of 21.6 knots along the way.

Pulling out all the stops, the crew overtook successively Team Brunel and then Vestas to finish second behind MAPFRE at the Tavern of the Seas. With two legs under their belts, Dongfeng Race Team had amassed two podium finishes and was lying in third place overall, two points behind MAPFRE and one point adrift of Vestas.


Distance: 6,500 nautical miles

Dongfeng finished 2nd

Crew: Charles Caudrelier (FRA, skipper), Pascal Bidegorry (FRA, navigator), Stuart Bannatyne (NZL, watch captain), Fabien Delahaye (FRA, trimmer), Liu Xue ‘Black) (CHN, pitman), Marie Riou (FRA, trimmer), Carolijn Brouwer (NED, trimmer), Jack Bouttell (AUS-GBR, bowman), Kevin Escoffier (FRA, bowman).

Gybing along the imaginary wall in the Southern Ocean

There was something of a repetition of Leg 2 for Dongfeng Race Team in Leg 3, from Cape Town to Melbourne as the Chinese team led for the first 11 days but was then overtaken in the closing stages by MAPFRE which went on to take the win.

Dongfeng started the leg by leading the fleet round the cans on Table Bay in classic Cape Town conditions with a fresh breeze under blue skies. On board for the first time in this race was Kevin Escoffier, the French all-rounder and “Mr Fixit,” in place of Jérémie Beyou, and Xue Liu, aka Black, in place of Horace.

An unplanned last minute crew change saw Dongfeng Race Team Performance Analyst Fabien Delahaye step in for watch captain Daryl Wislang who injured his back on shore just hours before the re-start.

The game on this leg was to get south into the big winds and big seas of the Southern Indian Ocean as fast as possible and Dongfeng led the way through a patch of light air. The strongest winds and shortest course lay to the south but all the boats quickly came up against the imaginary race course boundary imposed by the race officer - the Antarctic Ice Exclusion Zone - to stop the boats heading into iceberg territory.

What followed was an extraordinary gybing match along this southern limit with Dongfeng and MAPFRE duelling for days and gybing every hour, just a few miles north of the zone, before the Spanish team finally managed to get ahead. As the boats turned northeast towards Melbourne on Day 13 Dongfeng, for the first time in the race, went into “stealth mode” - hiding its position for 24 hours as the cat and mouse game with MAPFRE continued.

The last 500 miles saw a furious battle between Dongfeng and a chasing Vestas 11th Hour Racing for second place and Charles and the crew held on to claim the runner’s up spot despite having to deal with a failure in the keel ram two days from the finish.

Having been third overall in Cape Town, Dongfeng was now tied in second place with Vestas on 23 points, six points behind MAPFRE.


Distance: 5,600 nautical miles

Dongfeng finished 2nd

Crew: Charles Caudrelier (FRA, skipper), Franck Cammas (FRA, navigator), Stuart Bannatyne (NZL, watch captain), Daryl Wislang (NZL, watch captain), Chen Jinhao ‘Horace’ (CHN, pitman), Justine Mettraux (SUI, trimmer) Carolijn Brouwer (NED, trimmer), Jack Bouttell (AUS-GBR, bowman), Kevin Escoffier (FRA, bowman).

Dongfeng nails another second place as tragedy strikes the race

For stage four Charles Caudrelier shuffled his squad and brought on Swiss sailor Justine Mettraux in place of a rested Marie Riou and former Volvo Ocean Race winner Franck Cammas in place of Pascal Bidegorry who needed time to recover from a rib injury.

This was another tricky stage that actually took the fleet backwards - back west rather than further east - to Hong Kong and then the visit to Guangzhou. This was a stage Caudrelier and his team were desperate to win, keen to thank their sponsors in the best way possible by arriving in Hong Kong and China in glory.

The early stages went well for Dongfeng Race Team as they led for five days until the fleet hit the dreaded Doldrums north of the Solomon Islands. This would prove to be an exceptionally tough Doldrums experience in hot and sticky temperature with five boats insight of each other.

In the end Dongfeng got away well and was leading into the northeast Trade Winds with 3,300 miles still to sail, while rivals MAPFRE were left stuck under a cloud system and quickly lost 100 miles.

The fly in the ointment this time was Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag which cut the corner through the Doldrums and pointed straight at Hong Kong and by day 12 she was lying in second place, 120 miles south-southwest and to leeward of Dongfeng.

The gamble by Scallywag skipper David Witt and navigator Libby Greenhalgh paid off in spectacular style as the Hong-King-based crew managed to make their move stick and then win the leg in some style.

But the victory was overshadowed when tragedy struck the race in the closing stages of the leg as Vestas 11th Hour Racing was trying to hold off Dongfeng in the dark about 30 miles from the finish.

The American boat hit a local fishing craft, sending its 12 crew into the water, 11 of whom were rescued. However the skipper of the fishing boat died in the incident. Vestas sustained serious damage to its bow and the team abandoned the leg and would miss the next one too as the boat was shipped to Auckland for repairs.

Dongfeng, meanwhile, took another second place and with MAPFRE finishing fourth, the points gap between the two red boats was now four points.


Distance: 100 nautical miles

The boats left Hong Kong on February 1st for the transitional leg to Guangzhou for a full stopover. It was an exciting programme for Dongfeng Race Team in the home country of their sponsor, Dongfeng Motor Corporation with many fans and supporters also having the chance to meet their sailing heroes.

The fleet then concluded this leg by heading back to Hong Kong to prepare for the start of Leg 6.


Distance: 6,100 nautical miles

Dongfeng finished 4th

Crew: Charles Caudrelier (FRA, skipper), Pascal Bidégorry (FRA, navigator), Daryl Wislang (NZL, watch captain), Jérémie Beyou (FRA, watch captain), Carolijn Brouwer (NED, trimmer), Marie Riou (FRA, trimmer), Liu Xue ‘Black (CHN, pitman), Kevin Escoffier (FRA, bowman), Jack Bouttell (AUS-GBR, bowman).

The two red boats get stuck in the Doldrums together

After adding its third second-place finish in succession arriving in Hong Kong, Charles Caudrelier and his team were more determined than ever to win their first leg as they set sail on Leg 6 to Auckland.

Once again the fleet would be traversing the Doldrums and facing a lottery in terms of the outcome and, more important than winning, was avoiding a bad result.

This time, with Vestas 11th Hour Racing having withdrawn from this leg so that repairs could be made to their boat, there were only six in the fleet as the crews set sail into a rough South China Sea.

On Dongfeng, Marie Riou was back on board after her rest during leg five and so was navigator Pascal Bidegorry who replaced stand-in navigator Franck Cammas.

The early part of the leg saw a tough upwind slog past Taiwan, through the Luzon Strait with the routing taking the boats further north and east to get over the top of a lightwind patch to the south of the fleet.

By day six, with MAPFRE leading Dongfeng, the boats were able to turn their bows further south as they power-reached towards the Doldrums. This time this area of little or no wind and squalls came in two sections and both MAPFRE and Dongfeng were left behind on the eastern side of the fleet as the other four boats pushed ahead.

What followed were days of match racing between the two red boats as they tackled a huge area of light winds in the Doldrums and then to the south of them where the recently-departed Cyclone Gita had left a vast area of windless ocean in its wake.

At times progress was painfully slow with problems receiving weather forecasts on Dongfeng not helping matters. By their 16th day at sea the two red boats still had more than 1,500 miles to go, were 11 miles apart and around 90 miles astern of the leader Turn the Tide on Plastic.

In the final stages they were able to catch up, but painfully for Dongfeng, MAPFRE stole ahead to claim a valuable third place behind winners Team AkzoNobel and second-placed Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag. Dongfeng was third with Turn the Tide on Plastic dropping to fifth.

This meant that the deficit to MAPFRE had now slipped to five points. It was starting to feel like a race-winning gap…


Distance: 7,600 nautical miles

Dongfeng finished 2nd

Crew: Charles Caudrelier (FRA, skipper), Pascal Bidégorry (FRA, navigator), Daryl Wislang (NZL, watch captain), Jérémie Beyou (FRA, watch captain), Carolijn Brouwer (NED, trimmer), Marie Riou (FRA, trimmer), Chen Jinhao ‘Horace’, Kevin Escoffier (FRA, bowman), Jack Bouttell (AUS-GBR, bowman).

The Southern Ocean bares its teeth

Dongfeng Race Team set sail on the toughest leg of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race from Auckland to Itajai in Brazil still in second place overall, five points behind MAPFRE but determined to reduce the deficit on the Spanish boat.

This leg promised the most dangerous and sustained rough-weather sailing of the race as the fleet roared through the Southern Ocean towards Cape Horn, before turning north up the Argentinian coast to the finish in southern Brazil.

Dongfeng Race Team started well as the fleet made its way down the spectacular Coromandel coast and into the Bay of Plenty. After a week at sea, Dongfeng was halfway to Cape Horn and gybing along the Ice Exclusion Zone just as had happened in the southern Indian Ocean during Leg 2.

It was during the early stages of the leg that MAPFRE suffered damage to its mast track. This would lead to serious damage to the top of the mainsail and would force the Spanish crew to suspend racing for half a day just west of Cape Horn to affect repairs.

Meanwhile on the backmarker and the most northerly boat Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, British crewman John Fisher was lost overboard when the boat was about 1,400 miles west of Cape Horn. This tragedy led to Scallywag’s retirement from the leg and cast a shadow over the rest of the race.

After 12 days of brutal racing, Dongfeng successfully passed Cape Horn in daylight, 40 miles behind the leg leader and eventual stage winner Team Brunel and three miles behind second placed Vestas 11th Hour Racing. Just when it seemed the worst was behind them, Vestas then suffered the cruel luck of being dismasted south of the Falkland Islands.

The final stages saw Dongfeng and Team Brunel match racing all the way to the finish with the two crossing the line just minutes apart. The results of this double-points leg caused a big momentum swing in favour of Charles and his crew.

Having been five points behind, Dongfeng Race Team were now one point ahead of their Spanish rivals with four legs to come.


Distance: 5,700 nautical miles

Dongfeng finished 4th

Crew: Charles Caudrelier (FRA, skipper), Pascal Bidégorry (FRA, navigator), Daryl Wislang (NZL, watch captain), Stuart Bannatyne (NZL, watch captain), Carolijn Brouwer (NED, trimmer), Marie Riou (FRA, trimmer), Chen Jinhao ‘Horace’, Kevin Escoffier (FRA, bowman), Jack Bouttell (AUS-GBR, bowman).

Dongfeng gets stung at the finish in Newport

Dongfeng Race Team set sail from Itajai well-rested and buoyed by their performance during an exceptionally tough stage to Brazil from New Zealand.

Having finally climbed above MAPFRE by one point, the Chinese crew were looking to build on that success, but a cruel fate awaited them at the finish in Newport, Rhode Island.

After the rigours of the Southern Ocean this long south-north voyage seemed tame by comparison. In the early stages Dongfeng was always up at the leading end of the fleet while MAPFRE trailed after being caught under a windless cloud.

As the boats sailed north towards the Equator the big danger was the final crossing of the Doldrum belt in this race, off the mouth of the Amazon. Dongfeng went into the transition zone in third place and emerged in the same position but the leader had changed with Vestas 11th Hour Racing dropping back to fourth and Team Brunel moving into the lead.

The northeast Trade Winds on the other side of the Doldrums were blowing strong and steady, enabling a fast passage up towards the Caribbean. The closing stages of the leg saw Team Brunel holding onto their lead but as they crossed the Gulf Stream in some of the wildest conditions in the race so far, Dongfeng was ready to pounce.

With 60 miles to go she took the lead and Charles and the crew were beginning to dream of repeating their win into Newport in the 2014-15 race. But in the end game in foggy, windless conditions with a strong ebb tide ripping out of Newport in the early hours of the morning, Dongfeng came cruelly unstuck and lost three positions, eventually finishing fourth. At the same time MAPFRE climbed all the way back from sixth to finish unlikely leg winners.

Charles was not sure whether it was something on the keel or the rudders - perhaps some plastic - but the Chinese boat was going slowly, just when she needed every ounce of speed in two knots of wind to get her to the finish line.

The result reversed the momentum shift at the end of the previous leg as MAPFRE leap-frogged Dongfeng to take a three-point lead, going into the double-points transatlantic leg to Cardiff. Never had that leg looked more important to Dongfeng Race Team than it did that day they arrived exhausted and disappointed in the American capital of sailing.


Distance: 3,300 nautical miles

Dongfeng finished 3rd

Crew: Charles Caudrelier (FRA, skipper), Pascal Bidégorry (FRA, navigator), Daryl Wislang (NZL, watch captain), Stuart Bannatyne (NZL, watch captain), Carolijn Brouwer (NED, trimmer), Marie Riou (FRA, trimmer), Chen Jinhao ‘Horace’, Kevin Escoffier (FRA, bowman), Jack Bouttell (AUS-GBR, bowman).

Dongfeng goes on the offensive

Dongfeng Race Team set sail from Newport, Rhode Island determined to attack its main rivals, MAPFRE and Team Brunel, and wrest the overall race lead back from the Spanish crew led by Xabi Fernandez.

As Charles Caudrelier put it, ahead of the last double-points scoring leg of the race: “We have no choice; we have to attack.”

After a rousing send-off before perhaps the biggest spectator fleet and turnout on shore of the entire race, Dongfeng headed out into the Atlantic in third place but quickly took the lead.

The red and white Volvo Ocean 65 was the first to touch the Gulf Stream as the first, fast and furious day of this eight-day sprint to the Welsh capital Cardiff unfolded.

But by the second day the race order had been turned inside out as Dongfeng and MAPFRE headed north, positioning themselves for the next weather system while four boats led by Team Brunel continued on a more southerly trajectory. Having been leading Dongfeng was now in sixth place, with only MAPFRE behind her - the northern option was to prove second best as the southern boats moved ahead.

The middle phase of the race was dominated by a classic north Atlantic depression that saw the two Dutch boats, Team Brunel and Team AkzoNobel duelling at the front and setting new 24-hour distance records for the Volvo Ocean 65 and for the Volvo Ocean Race outright. AkzoNobel eventually covered a remarkable 601.63 miles in 24 hours at an average speed of 25.08 knots.

Then came the endgame as the fleet closed on the Irish coast with Dongfeng regaining third place from Vestas 11th Hour Racing. After riding the upper edges of a small depression off Land’s End, the last 150 miles to Cardiff saw light winds and strong tidal flows in the Bristol Channel. There were even warnings that the boats might have to anchor to stop them being swept backwards.

In the event, the breeze held up through the last night and Dongfeng made it to Cardiff in third place. It was mission accomplished for Charles and his crew. Dongfeng was back in the lead by one point from MAPFRE - and with another point in the bag for fastest elapsed time - but Team Brunel was now a potential race winner too, another three points behind after her second leg win in three starts.


Distance: 1,300 nautical miles

Dongfeng finished 4th

Crew: Charles Caudrelier (FRA, skipper), Pascal Bidégorry (FRA, navigator), Daryl Wislang (NZL, watch captain), Fabien Delahaye (FRA, trimmer), Carolijn Brouwer (NED, trimmer), Justine Mettraux (SUI, trimmer), Liu Xue ‘Black’ (CHN, pitman), Kevin Escoffier (FRA, bowman), Jack Bouttell (AUS-GBR, bowman).

Dongfeng struggles in the final miles to Gothenburg and a three-way battle for the trophy now looms

Team Brunel’s victory into Cardiff changed the overall picture for Charles Caudrelier and his team on Dongfeng. Although the red and white Volvo Ocean 65 was now back in lead, even counting the extra point in the bag for fastest elapsed time, there were now two other boats in contention for overall honours - MAPFRE, two points behind and Team Brunel four points behind.

Caudrelier made it clear before setting sail for Gothenburg that his crew could not cover both of these boats - they would sail their own race to Sweden, an approach the French skipper much preferred.

Dongfeng endured a difficult start to the leg in almost no wind and strong tidal conditions in the Bristol Channel. A few hours into the race she had dropped to sixth place but a good call to head more offshore paid big dividends as Dongfeng assumed the lead heading across the Celtic Sea towards the Fastnet Rock.

At this point Dongfeng was the first to get held up in dying breeze off the Irish coast with strong adverse current and MAPFRE moved into the lead. The boats then began beating up the west coast of Ireland with its spectacular cliffs and islands in the background.

The watershed moment in terms of weather came as the fleet started to feel the effects of a big Atlantic depression that swept them over the top of Scotland, all the way to the finish.

Storm Hector produced some of the most challenging big-wind racing of the entire race as the fleet reached and then went to windward across the North Sea in 35 knots of wind. Dongfeng remained in second place but as Scotland receded and she headed towards the southern tip of Norway, she seemed to falter and lost places, possibly having snagged debris or a fish on her keel. This dropped her to fifth while Team Brunel charged up the fleet to once again take the lead.

In the closing stages Dongfeng Race Team fought a minute-by-minute battle with Dee Caffari’s crew on Turn the Tide of Plastic for fourth place while MAPFRE chased Team Brunel ahead of them. By the finish, while Team Brunel clinched its third leg victory and MAPFRE was second, the crew on Dongfeng were relieved to get in in fourth place.

This created an unprecedented situation with three boats tied on 65 points (counting Dongfeng’s added point for fastest elapsed time) and with only Leg 11 from Gothenburg to The Hague to come. This meant that the finishing order on that final 700-mile sprint would determine the top-three places in this Volvo Ocean Race. Dongfeng Race Team could finish either as the winners, the runners-up or in third place for the second race in succession. Having not won a leg of this race so far, Charles’ crew was more determined than ever to put right that wrong.


Distance: 1,000 nautical miles

Dongfeng Race Team clinches spectacular win in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race with victory in the final leg

The final showdown featured an unprecedented three-way tie for the lead, something unique in the history of the Volvo Ocean Race and the Whitbread Round the World Race that preceded it.

Dongfeng Race Team, MAPFRE and Team Brunel all had 65 points (Dongfeng had scored 64 but was guaranteed a bonus point at the end of the race for the shortest elapsed time around the world) and the order that they finished in The Hague would determine the winner and the final podium places.

So nerves were on edge and the anticipation was palpable on the dockside in Gothenburg as the crews began what for many was the most important race of their professional careers.

In the early running Team AkzoNobel set the pace but Dongfeng was always on her heels after a good start at the windward end of the line. It was not long before Dongfeng took the lead and then began a long match race with MAPFRE who moved up into second place.

With Team Brunel back in fifth place, the two red boats beat up to the turning mark off the southern coast of Norway and then ran down to a “Fly-By” mark set inside the harbour at the Danish city of Aarhus. At this point Dongfeng was just under half a mile ahead and she made a perfect rounding in front of thousands of spectators.

On the next beat back up to Norway it was nip and tuck and MAPFRE got ahead briefly off Gothenburg before Dongfeng assumed the lead again. However the Spanish team were ahead for a second time as the boats began heading across the top of Denmark with Dongfeng just over mile behind and Team Brunel still in fifth place, five miles off the pace.

On the Chinese-flagged boats the atmosphere was tense and most of the crew had had very little sleep as this intense final challenge unfolded. The last stage of the leg featured strong northwesterly winds as the crews ran down the Danish coast towards the Traffic Separation Zones off Holland.

It was at this point that the key strategic decision of the race was made, that would determine the final outcome not just of the leg but the Volvo Ocean Race itself. While Team Brunel and MAPFRE went around the outside of the main Separation Zone, Dongfeng went inside along the coast. With 117 miles to sail the Chinese team was 50 miles behind but with stronger breeze, a better sailing angle and less strong foul tide, she gradually moved back up the fleet and took the lead with just 17 miles to go.

At the finish Dongfeng crossed the line in glory – she had won her first leg of the race and had won the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 after a remarkably tense and exciting finish. She had become the first Chinese-flagged team to win the race while Charles had achieved the crowning moment of his professional sailing career.