[Source: Dongfeng Race Team] It was an unbelievable end to a magnificent leg for Dongfeng Race Team. After leading the fleet virtually all the way from Abu Dhabi to Sanya in China, over more than 5,000 miles of intense ocean racing, Dongfeng finally crossed the finish line in first place as the sun rose over Sanya (23:31:38 UTC) in a time of 23 days, 13 hours, 31 minutes and 38 seconds.
This is the first time in history a Chinese team (or any Chinese sailor) has won a leg in the Volvo Ocean Race’s 41-year history. And what a leg to win supported by its Chinese partners – Dong Feng meaning wind from the east, Aeolus (Fong Shen) meaning the Wind Guardian and the City of Shiyan.
The reality is that it couldn’t have been scripted better. The Chinese team with two Chinese rookie sailors onboard – Liu Xue (Black) and Cheng Ying Kit – showed unparalleled grit and determination and led the entire fleet of some of the world’s best offshore sailors to their home country China. With the ambition to ‘bring offshore sailing to China’ nobody could have predicted the impact this team would have.
Arriving at the pontoon in Serenity Marina, Charles Caudrelier said: “It was the most stressful race of my life. We take the lead on the first day and we had to keep it because we had to arrive first here because it was very important for me and for the project, so we are so proud. One year ago we were here and we were discovering the Chinese sailors who were rookies and now they win the leg – it’s just fantastic. Maybe in the first time in offshore sailing something like this has happened – in just one year these guys have become great sailors. I am so proud, this is everything I wanted but I didn’t dare think about. It’s a team job and you cannot win a leg without a strong team.”
There were moments of panic where the chasing pack were catching up and the lead did diminish (from 106 miles to 9 miles at one point). In just under 24 days and racing more than 5,000 nautical miles, Dongfeng held their position. It’s the longest time any team has led the fleet since the start of the race back in Alicante in October, which is no surprise as the determination onboard Dongfeng was almost tangible as the teams left for Sanya. Dongfeng was going to fight like hell to win this leg.
Persian Gulf, Hormuz Strait, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea/Malacca Straits and the South China Sea are just a few of the challenges the determined men of Dongfeng have had to face as they battled their way through leg 3. Dongfeng have shown exceptional capabilities and stamina on what has been one of the slowest and agonizing legs so far.
This is the ultimate triumph for a project that has the future of Chinese sailing at its core. The youngest sailor in the race at the age of 21, Liu Xue, could not contain his delight on the dockside: “I have made the best decision of my life to join this team. I have learnt so much. This leg and this moment I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.” As a very proud grandmother, who had never flown on a plane until she flew into Sanya for this arrival, stood close by to Black.
When it was agreed that Dongfeng Race Team would lay the foundations for offshore sailing in China no one could have predicted such a perfect result. With little under a year of training the Chinese sailors in the squad have impressed, even if this made Dongfeng Race Team one of the less experienced teams and, subsequently, the least favourite to win when the race started. So this is not only a victory for China but for Caudrelier and his men who have worked day and night to train their Chinese counterparts.
Charles Caudrelier wrote on day 12 of the leg: “I am watching them with admiration, we’re leading this leg, we’re at the top of the overall leaderboard – you can’t compete with the race favourites without a great team. And to build a great team, you need great players. Thinking about the journey of the Chinese sailors since February 2014, Black didn’t speak a word of English and had never spent a night at sea. But from the first day he really impressed us – then he quit straight away after his first offshore sailing, beaten by the brutality of the bad weather – and then a few months later he returned. To start your offshore sailing career with a Volvo Ocean Race is brutal. This afternoon I was watching him trim the sails and I realised that he’s learnt thousands of details in a very short period of time. It’s the same for Kit who is realising his life’s dream onboard right now, his first offshore race. This evening he gave me a Chinese lesson, and it reinforced the enormity of the challenge they [the Chinese sailors] are taking on, learning in 6 months to sail and to work in a previously unknown language. I am proud of them.”
The Vice President of the International Sailing Federation and China Yachting Association, Mr. Li Quanhai congratulated to Dongfeng Race Team on their victory and stated: “Dongfeng Race Team has made history. It is the best result for a Chinese team in the world of offshore sailing.”
Dongfeng Race Team has delivered an outstanding result on this leg and is going to enjoy the moment! However, even though this victory has put Dongfeng at the top of the overall leaderboard, this is only leg 3 of 9 and we can only be as good as our NEXT result.