The final few hundred miles to the finish in Sanya are especially tense for Charles Caudrelier’s Dongfeng Racing Team as they edge towards taking an impressive victory on Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race. In both of the previous two legs the Franco/Chinese team has been on the podium, impressive in itself, but winning this leg into the Chinese port of Sanya would be particularly special for this new and impressive campaign.
The 4,642nm leg from Abu Dhabi has been a light one with plenty of stumbling blocks along the way from fickle conditions to unlit fishing boats and unmarked nets making Dongfeng’s dominance of this leg from day two on 4 Jan when the team took the lead, all the more impressive.
But while Caudrelier’s team may have led all the way, once again the leg has been one of close racing, boats often in sight of at least one of their competitors with the fleet expanding and compressing with each change in the weather.
When the fleet left Abu Dhabi at the start of this leg, three boats (Dongfeng, Abu Dhabi & Brunel) were on equal points at the top of the table but Leg 3 looks likely to shuffle the pack.
With the possibility of a Dongfeng victory in store and with Abu Dhabi snapping at their heels in second, this pair will take a leap on their previous close competitor, Brunel who are currently lying in 5th. Meanwhile, Team Alvimedica has been holding onto 3rd place while Mapfre puts pressure on them from fourth position.
So while the conditions have been quiet, from an overall points position Sanya looks like being the first leg to shake things up – just as we thought a pattern was emerging.
Here are some of the comments coming off the boats as the front runners approach the finish.
Sam Greenfield OBR, Dongfeng Race Team – Jan 25
A night of tacking… I know… I know… “Something like 13,” says Charles. A far cry from the 30 we were expecting, but 13 tacks spanned across every hour of the night were more than enough.
I had it easy compared to the sailors when it came to stacking: one backpack, one large Pelican case, a duffle bag, a laptop case, all the crap on my desk, my desk chair, the kitchen pot and all the kitchen accouterments.
They had to move every single bag and sail, thousands of pounds of stuff and then go up on deck and maneuver the boat. Over and over. “I’m not tired,” says Kit who is hunched over the coffee grinder on deck. “I just feel soft, like I have no power.”
Getting to the bow to make sure my two largest packs – one of which holds my beloved drone – weren’t violently thrown across the boat each time was a dangerous game of high stakes Frogger.
The animals start in the main cabin, slinging tool bags from the high side to the low –down a 30-degree grade- with a sobering lack of regard.
Through this I’d dash across the main cabin into the bow, and by the time I’d get my two bags across one of the beasts had already made their way forward and I’d have to wait, pinned by their cross fire, and watch in awe and terror as all of the personal bags were cannoned to the leeward side so hard I thought the canvas would explode.
But it’s over now and we’re heading offshore away from the Vietnamese coast towards what Charles hopes will be the last tack before we arrive in Sanya.
“The goal is to go east to avoid the shadow on the west part of the course,” explains Charles. I ask how he’s feeling. “I am a bit stressed. This is the last tack and it’s not an easy situation, even if we have an advance.”
“It will be very good when we have tacked and I can see that our friends are still behind us.”
Matt Knighton OBR, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – Jan 26
Sailing in a straight line was never supposed to be as tense as this. We’ve been pointing at Sanya for almost a day now and fortunately, Alvimedica, Mapfre, and Brunel far enough back to not be in AIS range anymore. The problem – they’re not in AIS range anymore.
The 6-hour skeds are now our only means of keeping track of our competitors. With the wind predicted to lighten ahead we had worried that Brunel and Mapfre, both whom had tacked later towards the north, were in a good position to work around us. Fortunately, our latest position report showed that they had sailed higher courses and are now slowly filing into a line behind us.
Ian and SiFi have been doing the math down below in the nav station. At this speed Brunel will need to sail 1 knot faster than us the rest of the way to Sanya to catch us. A second place in this leg would surely be a victory for us in the overall standings. Still, no one has flashed signs of optimism yet.
We just furled our headsail and Daryl jumped into the water with fins to clear our keel fin of debris. Sailing at 3 knots, he had just enough time to grab it, swim back up, and catch the transom as it sailed by. We had hooked a blue trash bag.
We’ll need every speed advantage we’ve got to defend our position and stay between Alvimedica and the finish line.
The wheels are starting to come off. We ran out of food bags today so no chocolate bars or sweets. More importantly, we’re down to our last roll of toilet paper. Parko and Neal just sawed a roll of paper towels in half to see us through.
Amory Ross OBR, Team Alvimedica – Jan 25
I’m unable to find a prior experience to compare last night’s events with. It was hours of pure chaos under the moonlight shadow of Vietnam, and no doubt something that in the realm of unique experiences will always live near the top.
With the actual coast and its many lights to one side and an armada of fishing boats and nets to the other, it was nearly impossible to distinguish between fleet and shore were it not for the elevation differences in the lights on land.
There were lights everywhere, hundreds of little craft and even unlit, overturned saucers with an oarsmen and a headlamp, drifting through the darkness. We could just have easily run someone over as we could have hooked a net, anchor, or both. The margin for error was ridiculously small.
Making things worse was the lack of consistency; there was no rhyme or reason to any of it. Blinking lights, solid lights, white, yellow, blue, red—it made no sense and consequently turned the overnight transit to total guesswork and as Charlie said, “the most intense night of sailing in my life.” Our midnight passage through Singapore Strait and the busiest shipping port in the world still just a few nights old, that says a lot about the last week out here.
You can see it in the guys, too. Once offshore and back into a watch system after sunrise, the boat went eerily quiet. There was no talking down below, only sleep. Tired from another all-nighter but wanting to get an early start to the editing, I sat down at my media desk with a coffee only to wake up just before I needed to cook lunch, hunched over the keyboard.
It has been an exhausting end to this leg, an exhausting leg in general, and the 300 miles that now stand between Sanya and us may prove most exhausting of it all. Second through fifth place are back in sight of each other and with only a few short days of straight line sailing left you can be sure nobody will give up an inch, certainly not us!