SANYA, China (AFP) – A Chinese sailing team led by a French captain took the third leg of the Volvo Ocean Race on Tuesday, crossing the finish line in home waters to make history as the event’s first Chinese stage winners.
Charles Caudrelier and his Dongfeng Race Team arrived in Sanya on the southern
Chinese island of Hainan, 23 days 13 hours 31 minutes and 38 seconds after setting out from Abu Dhabi.
The team are backed by Chinese carmaker Dongfeng, which has joint ventures with French manufacturers Renault and Peugeot and a stake in the latter.
Dongfeng were billed as underdogs at the start of the race — like the only two previous Chinese entries in the race’s 41-year history — but the crew performed heroics to finish second in both the first two stages, from Alicante to Cape Town, and then onto Abu Dhabi.
They started the third leg as joint leaders with two other teams, but now hold an outright lead in the 12th edition of the 38,739 nautical mile (nm) contest, with six legs to go before the finale in Gothenburg on June 27.
“We had to arrive first here, it was very important for me, for the project,” said a jubilant Caudrelier, according to information released by organisers.
“We’re so proud. One year ago we were here just discovering the Chinese rookies, they didn’t know anything about this kind of boat, and now they’ve won a leg.”
The Chinese team led for much of the 4,670nm stage through the Gulf, the Bay of Bengal, the Malacca and Singapore Straits and the South China Sea.
The final weekend saw Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing briefly stage a challenge along the Vietnamese coast, but Caudrelier held his nerve to coast to victory with a lead of around 50nm.
The nine-month Volvo Ocean Race is held once every three years, visiting 11 ports and every continent except Antarctica.
It was previously known as the Whitbread Round the World Race and is generally considered one of offshore sailing’s most prestigious prizes and toughest challenges.