After suffering a cruel twist of fate at the finish of Leg 8 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18, that saw Dongfeng Race Team drop from first to fourth in the last 20 miles, Charles Caudrelier struck a defiant note with his focus switching to the next leg across the Atlantic.
“The race is far from finished and there are double-points scored on the next one – it is not finished,” said the Frenchman as Dongfeng docked in the early morning fog in Newport, Rhode Island where almost windless conditions and a strong ebb tide turned the ranking inside out.
The drama at the end of Leg 8 saw MAPFRE complete her comeback from sixth place all the way to take an unlikely leg win by one minute and one second from long time leader Team Brunel, while Vestas 11th Hour Racing crept past Dongfeng to round out the podium.
The result means MAPFRE now takes a three-point lead in the overall scores into Leg 9 to Cardiff over Dongfeng Race Team, although the Chinese crew, sponsored by Dongfeng Motor Corporation, is virtually certain to gain one point at the finish as a result of having the shortest overall elapsed time for the race.
Naturally Caudrelier could not hide his disappointment at the end of a 16-day leg which saw Dongfeng disputing the lead for much of it and sailing a confident and polished race amid hopes that it could repeat its leg win here from three years ago.
“Of course we are disappointed,” he said. “We were dreaming about another victory here. I think we sailed very well until early this morning and then I don’t know what happened. We were quite slow downwind and probably there was a bit of plastic that we caught on the rudder and I imagine we had something on the keel – we should have checked earlier.”
But Caudrelier quickly moved to the next challenge across the Atlantic. “It really is a tough moment for Dongfeng Race Team but it makes me angry and I will be better on the next leg. I’m already focused on the future and I’m not going to dwell on losing this race like that. I am thinking about the next one and I promise Dongfeng Race Team will do a fantastic job next time again,” he said.
Bruno Dubois, the Dongfeng Team Director, watched the agonising last miles in the early hours of the American morning from on shore. He too was looking on the positive side. “We are still in the game – we are a couple of points behind MAPFRE – and we are still looking pretty good in terms of elapsed time. Our objective is to get ready for the next leg – with double points it will be very important,” said Dubois.
Dongfeng crew member Carolijn Brouwer of the Netherlands, also reflected on the final stages. “We have had a really tough leg or a tough finish I should say,” she said. “It was very disappointing for us obviously. Fifteen miles before the finish it looked completely different and then it was a turnaround and unfortunately it did not go our way.”
She revealed that as Dongfeng was creeping up the harbour to the finish line she could hear her young son, Kyle, shouting encouragement from ashore at Fort Adams. “I couldn’t see him at the time because of the fog, but I could hear him and then when I eventually saw him, it is in that moment that you instantly forget about the tough finish and the disappointing results…we will bounce back and be ready for the next leg, but now it is time to enjoy time with Kyle and our families,” she added.
Chinese sailor Chen Jinhao – also known as Horace – knows what it is like to win in Newport and he spoke of the frustration of watching the other boats sail past them at the death.
“Last time when we came into Newport we won the race less than a minute ahead of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. This time it is the complete opposite. We stopped and with the current pushing us backwards. We were watching the other boats on AIS and they were trying in other areas and they succeeded and passed us one-by-one,” he said.
“It is a very disappointing moment on board even now,” he added, “but this is part of the race. Sometimes you are facing a win, sometimes you have to deal with mistakes and sometimes there is a bit of luck involved too.
“There are still three legs to go. The next leg will be important and throughout the whole race we have believed in ourselves. Every time when we are racing we are working for a top spot, so we just need to make sure we don’t make any mistakes and believe in ourselves. We will keep pushing and be good,” concluded Horace.
Dongfeng Race Team is making its second consecutive appearance in the Volvo Ocean Race and is aiming to improve on its performance last time round when it finished third overall. The team is also committed to helping the sport of offshore sailing grow in China.