Dongfeng Makes VOR History
In what was without a doubt the most exciting Volvo Ocean Race finish, or perhaps the most exciting sailboat race finish since the Australians won the America’s Cup in 1983, the Chinese entry Dongfeng Race Team took overall victory in the tense and nail biting finish in The Hague. Earlier in the day the team was in fourth place, 17 miles behind the leader Mapfre, but a bold and decisive tactical move taken 24 hours earlier was starting to pay off in spades. As much of the sailing world sat glued to the Race Tracker we watched Dongfeng close the gap until finally taking the lead a few scant miles from the finish line. It was a historic and quite extraordinary win for Charles Caudrelier and is crew.
When the fleet left Gothenburg there were three boats that could have won the race. Dongfeng took an early lead and fought off a charge from the Spanish team Mapfre with at times the two yachts just boat lengths apart. When they rounded the turning mark in Denmark Dongfeng looked strong but the wheels fell off once they rounded the north coast of Denmark and Xabi Fernández and his crew on Mapfre took over the top spot. Meanwhile Team Brunel were struggling to recover from a bad first night and they were languishing well back in the fleet. It looked almost certain for it to be over for them, but anyone who knows skipper Bouwe Bekking knows that he has become the come-from-behind king.
On the west coast of Denmark there are a number of traffic separation zones that needed to be heeded. It was a tactical minefield with big swaths of ocean that were a no-go zone. Mapfre continued to dominate but anyone watching knew that anything could happen; and it did. With less than 200 miles to the finish Caudrelier and company took a risky gamble. Well that’s what it looked to be at the time but it turned out to be a little bit of tactical genius. With a large separation zone ahead of them, and Mapfre making gains, Dongfeng opted to go the the east side of the separation zone while Mapfre took the west side. Almost immediately the race Tracker showed Dongfeng losing miles to the leader. They dropped to over 50 miles astern of Mapfre and it looked like their race was over. How could they possibly make up 50 miles with less than 200 to go?
As Sunday morning, the last day of the race dawned, it looked like Mapfre was going to win the Volvo Ocean Race. They were fighting off a charge from Team Brunel who had found their stride and had closed to within a couple of miles of the leader. The game looked to be over for Dongfeng, but not so fast. When they gybed onto starboard they had a better sailing angle and as such much better speed. They very quickly started to eat into Mapfre’s lead. They were sailing at times over five knots faster then the Spanish entry and the big advantage that Mapfre was enjoying was quickly evaporating.
There was a mark of the course around six miles from the finish that had to be honored and Mapfre was closing in on it but with much less speed than Dongfeng. It must have been heartbreaking for Xabi Fernández and his crew to watch as Dongfeng closed the gap and then without much fuss took over the lead. Six miles to go and with a lead of three the writing was on the wall and the fat lady was starting to hum. The forecast was for the wind to remain steady all the way to the finish in The Hague and Caudrelier took full advantage pushing hard until they exultantly crossed the line to take this edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. It was history in the making and exciting beyond belief. Mapfre was going to have to be satisfied with second place and Team Brunel third. The fat lady was crooning in Chinese and the game was over.
All that remains is the final inshore race which could determine if Dee Caffari on Turn the Tide on Plastic is able to avoid the wooden spoon and hand it over Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag. Still more drama to play out before these teams can finally hang up their boots and call it a day.