The team skippered by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier has endured a tough opening stage to the round-the-world marathon from Alicante to Lisbon and has been racing in the middle-to-the rear section of the seven-strong fleet.
This morning however, the red and white Volvo Ocean 65 has rounded the final waypoint before the finish at Lisbon – still over 400 miles away – hot on the heels of third-placed Team AkzoNobel, skippered by Simeon Tienpont, and the crew knows a podium finish is still possible.
The waypoint - Porto Santo North - is virtual mark on the navigators’ screens positioned out in the Atlantic west, southwest of Lisbon. “We have seen AkzoNobel when we arrived close to the waypoint in the middle of the sea – it’s strange to turn around nothing,” joked Dongfeng navigator Pascal Bidegorry.
“They were about five miles in front of us, now it is a little less than four. We will try to push and maybe to play a little bit different compared to them, to try to get closer and closer,” added Bidegorry.
The Frenchman foresees a very difficult end to this race with light airs dominating the closing stages, making final predictions for the finish tomorrow evening uncertain. “It’s going to be a very stressful arrival because we are not going to have a lot of wind close to Lisbon – it will be a big mess,” predicted Bidegorry.
Dongfeng Race Team started Leg 1 in excellent shape as the crew led the fleet away from Alicante last Sunday. Then during the first night three boats - Vestas 11th Hour Racing skippered by Charlie Enright, MAPFRE skippered by Xabi Fernandez andTeam AkzoNobel - got away and Dongfeng slipped towards the back of the fleet.
After losing ground on the approach to the Gibraltar Strait the team has been playing catch-up ever since. But morale on board has remained strong as the men and women sponsored by the Chinese car and truck manufacturer, Dongfeng Motor Corporation, have fought to salvage a decent result.
“At times we are struggling but it doesn’t change the motivation on board and the atmosphere on board,” commented Dutch sailor Carolijn Brouwer. “Obviously everyone is tired. It has been really intense over the last couple of days with a lot of sail changes and manoeuvres…but everyone is giving their everything.
“If it’s the middle of your off-watch and you get called on deck, then everyone is there instantly – just anything we can do to make the boat go faster and gain a few metres on the boats behind and the ones in front of us,” she added.
French Vendee Globe veteran Jeremie Beyou says nothing that has happened on this first leg in his first Volvo Ocean Race has surprised him.
“You always expect to be at the front of the fleet and make the right choices and be quick every time,” he said during a break from his shift on deck. “That is the dream – sometimes it happens but usually it doesn’t so you have to find the resources as a team and as a crew to overcome this.
“It’s the first time we’ve been (at the back) in the race and I’m quite sure it won’t be the last, so we will have to fight during the eight months of this race and I think, as a team, we will be able to do that,” Beyou added.
The crews are now reaching fast straight at Lisbon with Vestas 11th Hour Racing well ahead of MAPFRE in second and Team AkzoNobel in third. Dongfeng is currently 60 miles behind the leader, making almost 13 knots of boatspeed in 12 knots of true wind.
Current ranking at 0700 UTC
1. Vestas 11th Hour Racing 🇺🇸 C.Enright, to finish 294.60 nm
2. MAPFRE 🇪🇸 X.Fernández, to leader 26.64 nm
3. team AkzoNobel 🇳🇱 S.Tienpoint, to leader 51.21 nm
4. Dongfeng Race Team 🇨🇳 C.Caudrelier, to leader 54.96 nm
5. Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag 🇭🇰 D.Witt, to leader 61.95 nm
6. Turn the Tide of Plastic 🇫🇲 D.Caffari to leader 72.63 nm
7. Team Brunel 🇳🇱 B.Bekking, to leader 73.97 nm