ALICANTE, Spain: The Dongfeng Race Team bounced back from two major setbacks to take the sixth leg lead in the Volvo Ocean Race on Monday.
The Chinese challengers, second in the standings behind Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, broke their mast in the previous stage to Itajaí, Brazil, and had a new one installed only three days before the leg departure to Newport, Rhode Island.
That left Dongfeng’s skipper Charles Caudrelier concerned that the rig had not been adequately prepared for a 5,010-nautical mile (nm) challenging leg through the Atlantic and to add to their problems, their electronic water converter broke early in the leg.
The machine is key for offshore sailors, making salt water drinkable, but they were able to fix it after 24 hours having meantime used a manual converter instead.
On Monday, they had established a slim, 4.6nm advantage over Spanish challengers, MAPFRE, with Dutch boat, Team Brunel, a further two nautical miles astern.
The entire six-strong fleet is still in contention, however, for a leg which will not be completed until around May 7, depending on conditions, after 18 days of sailing.
Even Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.), so determined to win the stage to their home port of Newport, were far from out of contention. Although in last place of the six boats, they were only 23.3 miles adrift of the leaders.
The all-women’s crew of Team SCA (Sweden) and Abu Dhabi were handily positioned, 19.5nm and 19.7nm respectively behind Dongfeng Race Team.
Meanwhile, Francisco Vignale, onboard reporter for second-placed MAPFRE, was trying to work out at the weekend how Caudrelier’s crew were extracting such pace from their identical, one-design Volvo Ocean 65.
“Dongfeng is sailing so fast that the team have been taking around half mile on each watch (every four hours),” he wrote.
“All of this is a bit desperate and frustrating since we do not know why and how they always have that extra speed. Is it the mast? Do they have a new mainsail?”
Caudrelier sounded like a man who would love to know the secret himself. In a recent blog from his boat he wrote: “The wind is very light and unstable and each of the boats has good and bad phases It’s hard on the nerves, no gain is ever for keeps.
“This Volvo Ocean Race is really something else. The move to a one-design boat has changed the race and made it even tougher. The permanent contact with our competitors is tiring and stressful.”
After this leg, the fleet has three more stages to negotiate, finally completing the 38,739nm, nine-month offshore marathon in the last week of June in Gothenburg, Sweden.