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As Volvo Ocean Race Begins, Its Future Rides on Dongfeng

Aerial view of the fleet during the In-Port Race in Alicante, Spain on Oct. 4
Aerial view of the fleet during the In-Port Race in Alicante, Spain on Oct. 4Photograph by David Ramos/Volvo Ocean Race

When the starting gun went off in Alicante, Spain, on Oct. 4, a stiff breeze was blowing. Seven 66-foot sailboats approached the start line, fighting for the best angle as the wind shifted. Stays chimed. Men scrambled. A bright sun burnt silhouettes of sails across the horizon. Rather than fight for the line, one of the boats—the Dongfeng Race Team, the only Chinese boat ever to enter the event—broke with the rest, taking an opposite, port tack and starting from behind, but at closer to full speed.

It was a bold move, and, for most of the six-leg, 7.8 nautical mile race, Dongfeng’s skipper Charles Caudrelier kept the boat in the top three. A slow sail change in the final leg cost the team precious time, and Dongfeng ended up fifth. Still, it was a good finish considering that some of Dongfeng’s crew had never competed in an open water regatta, much less the Volvo Ocean Race, one of the sport’s capstone competitions.