VOR: Chinese Sailors come a long way

Published on May 11th, 2015

By Chris Museler, The New York Times

Newport, RI (May 11, 2015) – The Chinese team in the Volvo Ocean Race could not have performed worse during a trial run in September, less than a month before the actual race began.

With France’s top ocean racers training the crew, the Dongfeng Race Team watched a $15,000 sail slide overboard and a Chinese crew member cling to a halyard as he met the same fate, the line shredding his palms, only to be rescued along with the sail.

“The French guys were getting loads of grief,” said Mark Turner, one of the Chinese team’s managers, at a stopover here last week. “The other teams, everyone, thought we were irrelevant.”

But Dongfeng, whose crew includes members who had never slept on a sailboat or spoken English before February 2014, arrived in Newport on Thursday as the victor of the race’s sixth leg, which started in Itajaí, Brazil, on April 19. It was the second leg the team has won in the nine-leg race around the world, which covers 11 ports and about 39,000 nautical miles.

Dongfeng is now alone in second place over all, with 17 points, 6 behind Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, which finished second in the sixth leg, 3 minutes 25 seconds behind. Dongfeng has managed this despite a broken mast in the previous leg from Auckland, New Zealand, to Itajaí that added the maximum number of penalty points to its score. When the crew members won the third leg sailing into their home port in Sanya, China, they knew they were onto something.

“The win in China legitimized what we were doing for our sponsors,” said Turner, who admitted that he had not initially had high expectations for the team. “The Chinese, culturally, want to win. But they also wanted Chinese sailors aboard. That was at odds with setting up a winning program.”

Turner said it was in the team’s contract to have three Chinese sailors as part of the eight-person crew for each leg. In October, when the Chinese arrived for the start in Alicante, Spain, the skipper, Charles Caudrelier, refused to take them on.

“He said it was just plain unsafe,” Turner said. “These boats are sailed with around three people on deck at any one time. There would have been scenarios where two of the crew had to be Chinese and very inexperienced, and Charles couldn’t handle that.” Read on.

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