DONGFENG RACE TEAM

Sailing World - - The Volvo Ocean Race -

If it weren’t for its Southern Ocean dis­mast­ing in the 2014-15 edi­tion of the Volvo Ocean Race, Dongfeng Race Team could very well have gone on to win on its first try. But in this race, what-ifs mean noth­ing when it comes to the fi­nal re­sults. In­stead, the in­ter­na­tional crew fin­ished third, an in­cred­i­ble per­for­mance for its French skip­per Charles Cau­drelier, who spent a for­mi­da­ble por­tion of his cam­paign train­ing up Chi­nese sailors from scratch.

Not this time. Cau­drelier re­tained a few of his es­sen­tial crewmem­bers, as well as his tal­ented Chi­nese crew­men “Wolf,” “Black,” and “Ho­race,” and has spent the bet­ter part of the year en­trenched at home in Lori­ent, France, hon­ing the col­lec­tive skills of a tal­ented and di­verse cast of sailors. He has his re­turn­ing nav­i­ga­tor Pas­cal Bidé­gorry by his side and New Zealan­ders Stu Ban­natyne and Daryl Wis­lang, who won with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Olympian Marie Riou and Team SCA alum Carolijn Brouwer, are in the mix, as is one of the most out­stand­ing young sailors in the sin­gle­handed off­shore-racing world, Jack Bout­tell, of Aus­tralia.

“The team is very di­verse,” says Bout­tell, Don­feng’s un­der- 30 bow­man, “and while that brings com­pli­ca­tions, it also brings a lot of strengths. With a lot of the same peo­ple from the last cam­paign, most ev­ery­one knows what works best and what makes peo­ple happy.”

The team has been train­ing in France al­most full-time since late Jan­uary, ex­plor­ing the nu­ances of the boat and its new sail in­ven­tory. In the pre­vi­ous edi­tion, Dongfeng was con­sid­ered to be one of the quick­est in light air, but by the end of the race, other teams had adapted its trim­ming style.

“With this race, the speed dif­fer­ences will be much closer,” says Bout­tell. “We have one ex­tra sail ( J- Zero) and the other sails are slightly dif­fer­ent shapes, so we’ve been work­ing on where the sail crossovers are and where the J- Zero sits in that in­ven­tory. It’s a big part of it, try­ing to work out how to fit that sail into the cross­over.” Be­tween the four sails that fly off the bowsprit and the J1, he says, there are times when the crossovers are very, very small, and find­ing the sweet spots will prove to be the dif­fer­ence.

The dis­ap­point­ment of the last race is long gone from Cau­drelier’s mind, but the ex­pe­ri­ence does mo­ti­vate him, says Bout­tell. “He’s a very solo-minded sailor and takes

“Charles is one of the most de­ter­mined guys I’ve ever met. His mind­set is to go fast, and that’s what we are here to do with him.”

ev­ery­thing upon him­self — not in terms of do­ing it, but bear­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the suc­cess of the en­tire cam­paign. The take-away from that race, I be­lieve, was that recovering from big in­ci­dences like that is part of the head game we have to win. We’ll be stronger hav­ing dealt with it.”

While Dongfeng might be con­sid­ered an early fa­vorite on ac­count of its deep crew and its early prepa­ra­tion, Bout­tell is adamant that Cau­drelier and any­one else in the Dongfeng camp doesn’t be­lieve so. “We’ve had good progress, but there is a lot of work to do. We’re push­ing 100 per­cent like ev­ery­one else to be the best we can.”

Cau­drelier’s great­est as­set, Bout­tell adds, is that he trusts ev­ery­one to per­form in their ar­eas and leaves it to the in­di­vid­u­als to ex­cel, just as they would as solo sailors. “Charles is one of the most de­ter­mined guys I’ve ever met,” says Bout­tell. “His mind­set is to go fast, and that’s what we are here to do with him.”

Dongfeng Race Team was the first team to com­mit to a coed squad with the hir­ing of Dutch Olympian and VOR vet­eran Carolijn Brouwer.

PHO­TOS : MARTIN KERUZORE , B E N O I T S T I C H E L B A U T / V O LV O OCEAN RACE

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