The fleet set sail in almost windless conditions on Cardiff Bay after a short postponement while the tide went slack in the Bristol Channel.
Dongfeng made a safe start in the middle of the line but quickly fell back behind MAPFRE, which is only one point behind the Chinese-flagged team in the ranking and Team Brunel, three points behind.
Drifting in dirty air from the boats ahead, Charles Caudrelier, on the helm on Dongfeng, was the first to tack as the boats made very slow progress on their way out to sea.
The goal this evening is to try to get out of the Bristol Channel with the ebb tide and get into the forecast light northerly winds offshore. Boats that fail to get through this tide gate may have to anchor to avoid being swept back eastwards by the flood tide.
This 1,300-nautical mile leg could prove critical to the final outcome of this race with the extra point for winning the stage possibly making a big impact on how the overall positions shake out. After this leg, there is only one more to come – the race-ending Leg 11 from Gothenburg to The Hague.
Over the next few days the crews will make their way past the Fastnet Rock, up the west coast of Ireland and then around the top of Scotland towards the southern tip of Norway and then east to Gothenburg. Light northerly winds will be followed by a faster downwind passage around the top of the British Isles, followed by what could be another lightwind finish.
In the build-up to the leg start, Caudrelier said that with two boats to watch out for, the best option for Dongfeng was to try to sail for the leg win.
“We are in a good position, being ahead of the other two guys,” he said. “We do not have only one boat to control and it is impossible to control two boats and I prefer this. We tried to control MAPFRE from maybe a bit too early in the race and we lost a lot of points match racing them instead of focusing on what we wanted to do.”
Caudrelier knows that overall victory is tantalisingly close and has described the next 10 days as the most important of his career. “It’s a dream if we can achieve it all together, it will be fantastic,” he said.
On board Dongfeng at the start today was the superstar American professional snow-boarder, Travis Rice, who has been spending some time with the team in Cardiff. Before he prepared to leave the dock, Rice expressed his admiration for Caudrelier’s crew and what they have been through over the past eight months.
“I’m a part-time sailor so being able to come on board with some of the best in the world, I am aware of the hardship that these guys go through and it’s incredible to see the teamwork and communication that doesn’t even need words – it’s been a thrill to be here this week,” he said.
In addition to trying to win this race, Dongfeng Race Team is committed to helping to develop the sport of offshore ocean race in China.