Volvo Ocean Race- Time for change on Dongfeng; Caudrelier vows to stick to original game plan
Leaders Dongfeng Race Team (Charles Caudrelier/FRA) will set off from Sanya on Sunday for Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race with no less than four changes to their crew.
French skipper Caudrelier explained in a packed pre-departure press conference on Friday, that they have a firm game plan to give as much experience as possible to the four Chinese rookies in the race crew.
That has led to two of the Chinese crew, who helped them to Leg 3 victory from Abu Dhabi to Sanya – Liu Xue (English name ‘Black’) and Cheng Ying Kit (‘Kit’) – to make way for Chen Jin Hao (‘Horace’) and Yang Jiru (‘Wolf’) for the next stage to Auckland, New Zealand.
The newcomers have already seen action in earlier legs, so it should be a reasonably ‘like-for-like’ swap on the Dongfeng boat, although ‘Black’ has won rave reviews from his skipper and, at 21, could even be a future race skipper if he continues his current rate of progress.
A bigger call has been to confirm the pre-race plan of giving navigator Pascal Bidégorry (FRA) a breather for the leg from Sanya to Auckland, with a member of the previous race’s victorious Groupama crew, Erwan Israel (FRA), taking his place.
Additionally, Swede Martin Strömberg returns as a senior member of the crew (pit and trimmer) at the expense of young Australian, Jack Bouttell.
That adds up to quite a carousel of switches, especially in a winning team, which is defying pre-event expectations.
Caudrelier told the conference that there was no intention of veering from the team’s main ambition of introducing a new generation of Chinese sailors to offshore racing’s toughest challenge.
“In an ideal world, we would not make all these changes, for sure, but this is part of a project. We could easily take the best Chinese sailors and keep them on the boat, but that’s not in the deal,” he said.
“I have six sailors in my team (from China) and I want to keep them improving. I’m thinking about the future, about the Chinese guys in the next Volvo Ocean Race,” added Caudrelier, whose team are protecting a one-point lead over Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) with six legs to go.
“By the end of the race, I want all of them to have sailed two or three legs in the race – that’s my goal.”
But surely, should Dongfeng Race Team find themselves still in front by the time the race reaches Europe in May for the latter stages, won’t the overwhelming temptation be to stick with their most powerful line-up?
“No, Dongfeng Race Team is not like that. I accepted the contract and I’ve got to do it the way we planned,” said Caudrelier.
Understandably, much of the focus in a packed press conference in China’s southernmost port was focused on the Chinese boat, but the five other skippers also spoke brightly about their prospects ahead of a 5,264-nautical mile leg, which will take them through the South China Sea and out into the Pacific Ocean.
That certainly included Team Alvimedica’s Charlie Enright (USA) whose team claimed their first podium with third spot in the third leg and are obviously strong contenders in the next leg which is likely to be quicker than the first two.
Two skippers with maybe more of a point to make than most, were Bouwe Bekking (NED) of Team Brunel, and Sam Davies (GBR) of Team SCA.
Bekking described the result of finishing fifth in the previous leg to China as ‘bloody hopeless’, but said that re-motivating his crew having won Leg 2 was not an issue.
“The crew did a bloody good job, but the result just wasn’t there,” he told the conference. “Sometimes it’s hard to explain that to the public. There’s no need for extra motivation, it just goes that way sometimes in sailing.”
Davies has always known that she and her all-women crew have a mighty task on their hands to make up a decade-long knowledge gap after three consecutive races without a female team in the race.
So far, they have been last to arrive in port in all but the first leg when they edged out MAPFRE (Iker Martínez/ESP) for sixth, but their results in the in-port race series have been far more encouraging with two podium places including top spot in Abu Dhabi.
The legs, fought out over three or more weeks, are a different matter and Davies summed up her crew’s challenge succinctly, when she commented: “The hardest thing is that nobody makes mistakes in this race.”
Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite true in the case of Team Vestas Wind (Chris Nicholson/AUS), whose boat ran aground on a reef in Leg 2 on November 29, but they are making commendable efforts to return to the race in June.
Nicholson told the conference that the Vestas Wind was now in the Persico boatyard in Bergamo, Italy, and its rebuild is underway.
“It feels like things are moving forward,” he said. “The workforce at Persico is very impressive and it gives me more confidence it can be done on schedule.”
Both the ‘Team Vestas Wind In-Port Race’ on Saturday, and the Leg 4 departure on Sunday, will begin at 1400 local time which is GMT+8. So far the indications are that the breeze will be around 10-15 knots.