[Source: Dongfeng Race Team] It has been an interesting journey so far for the Chinese team in the Volvo Ocean Race, Dongfeng Race Team. Approximately 10 months ago this team set out on a mission to select and train Chinese recruits in the hope that they would be ‘race ready’ for the start of leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15.
No secrets, it is a game changing ambition that has brought on challenges of epic proportions but as the start line draws closer, after 10,000 nautical training miles taking in five countries, and some newly created unbreakable friendships later, the final race crew of Dongfeng Race Team for Leg 1 has been announced.
Racing onboard for Leg 1:
Charles Caudrelier (Skipper/Helmsman)
Pascal Bidégorry (Navigator/Helmsman/Trimmer)
Martin Strömberg (Watch Leader/Helmsman/Pit)
‘Wolf’ Yang Jiru (Pit/Trimmer)
Thomas Rouxel (Watch Leader/Helsman/Trimmer)
Kévin Escoffier (Bowman/Helmsman)
‘Horace’ Chen Jin Hao (Bowman/Trimmer)
Eric Peron (Trimmer/Helmsman)
Yann Riou (Onboard Reporter)
When the Dongfeng Race Team was launched back in October 2013, the ambitions of the project were clear – to have the interests of Chinese sailing at its core, with a significant number of Chinese in both its on-water and support teams – to race for China, and for the future of Chinese sailing. A year on and those ambitions remain but the learning curve has been steep, steeper than anyone could have foreseen when it comes to taking rookie, Mandarin only speaking Chinese sailors and transforming them into ‘race ready’ offshore sailors in an international team, able to take on the most extreme and demanding offshore crewed round the world race.
Nonetheless, six Chinese sailors made it through the intense training programme and are now part of the Dongfeng Race Team final race squad, alongside six professional Western offshore sailors.
Charles Caudrelier has now chosen the crew who will be on board Dongfeng for Leg 1. Charles has many factors to consider when selecting his crew – the ultimate one is safety – and the Chinese sailors who race will be the ones most capable of dealing with the extreme nature of life on board, whilst at the same time ensuring that Dongfeng can deliver as competitive a performance as possible against the other highly-qualified and fully professional racing crews.
“I’m counting down the days. I still cannot believe that in six days my dream will come true. We have worked so hard for this from the moment I saw the recruitment advert I knew I had to do this,” said Yang Jiru (Wolf). His counterpart Chen Jin Hao (Horace) is equally honoured to have been awarded a place onboard for Leg 1, “I thank everyone for their support, especially the crew and the shore crew. I know that they have put their trust in us and I really hope I don’t let them down. I have some photos of my family, I will look at the photos whenever I miss them during the race.”
“The number of Chinese guys racing onboard on leg 1 will be two – we had a goal of 3 when we began this mission,” said Dubois. “But some of the guys need more training – they themselves admit they are not ready – and that training will continue in parallel to the race. The particular challenge with the new Volvo Ocean 65 is that with two watches of 3 sailors, the big step we’ve not managed for leg 1, but hope to still achieve, is having a watch with two less experienced Chinese rookies with just one more experienced sailor as helm and watchleader – for now this particular scenario on a safety perspective is not reasonable – but we believe we can get there still as these dedicated 6 Chinese sailors continue to go up the learning curve. We just ran out of time for leg 1 to get to the minimum level of safety.”
“We are so proud of what the Chinese guys have achieved so far – not just in the sailing team but in our support team as well. Our mission was not just training the sailors but also teaching the shore team members how to run a professional offshore campaign from logistics through to commercial account management, so that one day there can be a 100% Chinese team both on and off the water.”
With the extreme demands that the Volvo Ocean Race will impose on the crew, the six Chinese sailors will rotate between set positions on the boat, and key positions in the shore team, throughout the race. On some legs, for example the leg into Sanya, the goal is to have 3 Chinese sailors amongst the eight-strong crew as traditionally this leg is in lighter winds, and less stressful, conditions; whereas on the legs known for their extreme nature both in terms of weather and intensity, like the leg from New Zealand to Brazil through the fearsome Southern Ocean, only two Chinese sailors are likely to race. Its not out of the question that we could get to 4 sailors on one of the shorter legs in Europe. The learning curve will continue to be steep throughout the race for our rookies – and the aim is to finish this race with an experienced squad of sailors and shore team support that can help take Chinese offshore sailing forward in the future. In the words of Charles Caudrelier this mission isn’t over yet “We will continually fight throughout the race to have more Chinese onboard when it’s possible, this is just the beginning.”
It’s been a tough road for Bruno Dubois but there’s no hiding the excitement on the Team Director’s face as he helps the crew with the final preparations. “I’ve had sleepless nights, I’m not going to lie, but in reality I know what a huge achievement it is to have Horace and Wolf onboard. I think we have come a long way since the first day we tested the guys in Sanya. I am also pleased with the non-Chinese sailors who kept their focus on what is our primary objective – to launch properly Chinese offshore sailing. I now can let the guys go on this first leg with the feeling that we have made a major step forward for China.”
The Dongfeng Race Team is the first real attempt to create a Chinese offshore racing team and, if by the end of the race, we manage to finish on the podium for a leg we will have really done something to be proud of.