Preparing for Sailing’s Toughest Team Challenge

Published on August 1st, 2017

After a third place finish in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race, Dongfeng Race Team announced in November they’d return in 2017-18 for a second successive campaign under French skipper Charles Caudrelier. And this time, their sights were only on the top of the podium.

Australian Jack Bouttell, who will be performing bow duties for the team, reports on the team’s preparations.

Jack Bouttell

Time has literally flown by since starting with Dongfeng Race Team back in January, always busy, always sailing, always training. I sailed one leg with Team Dongfeng in the last race, it was a fantastic experience but I joined the team quite late after finishing my second Solitaire du Figaro.

I joined the team as a shore crew and eventually managed to get the opportunity to sail onboard, but for this I didn’t really get the full experience of what it was like to be a sailor in the lead up to the race. However, this time has been a lot different, starting at the very beginning you are able to see what really goes into making a campaign in this race possible.

It is the biggest jigsaw you have ever seen. It’s a very complex, fast paced project which at times is mind boggling how everything keeps going(mainly thanks to the logistics team for that). There is so much to do but at the same time it is very rewarding as everything is evolving very quickly so you are seeing it happening.

We haven’t even got to the race yet but we are currently in the mass organising and packing phase. All the spares, tools, gear, onboard food and everything that the whole team will need for the next year is being packed up now. Some things will be sourced during the stopovers but the main bulk of items down to how many rolls of masking tape we need is now packed. The amount of Excel spreadsheets is simply extraordinary.

Compared to my experience in the last race where I was a shore crew, I am doing less work on the boat but the work load is equal in other ways. Our general program is broken into week blocks of inshore or offshore training. We start nearly every day with a gym session; this is great but when you do gym in the morning and then sail all day/night, you generally can’t lift your arms when you get back.

For inshore training we practice sailing around a short course with lots of manoeuvres, a practise race is around 45 minutes of solid physical exertion. For a boat of this size, you generally would sail with around 15-18 people, but as we are 8 or 9 onboard everyone does multiple jobs.

I am the bowman but also do the backstay for when we change tacks. The loads on this are between 6-11 tonnes and requires just about all your strength to wind up the last of the load. This is done every couple of minutes in between running to the bow, grinding on the pedestals. After 45 minutes you can barely breathe!

The majority of our training time is spent offshore. We go offshore for between 24-72 hours, splitting time between sailing a course non-stop to practice racing or testing where we would try different sail set-ups during the day and go easy at night with just two people on deck so you could get a good amount of sleep. But a good amount means 4-5 hours of broken sleep in a black, carbon boat bouncing all over the place.

Coming in from these days we go into a debriefing to discuss what we did, how to make it better, and then put that into the next training block. In general, you are tired and physically wrecked most of the time. Everyone is pretty fit and we just had another round of testing in the gym.

I was pretty happy with a 6 minutes 25 seconds for a 2000m on the rowing machine, which our coach later told me is equal to the woman’s world record! Got a way to go to the men’s record but happy with that.

We are now about to compete in the Leg Zero series, the official warm-up for competitors in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18. Having now sailed since January on our own, everyone is keen to get some racing in!


Race detailsRace routeFacebook

2017-18 Edition: Entered Teams – Skippers
Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED)
Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA)
MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP)
Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Charlie Enright (USA)
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS)
Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR)
Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED)

Background: Racing the one design Volvo Ocean 65, the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race begins in Alicante, Spain on October 22 2017 with the final finish in The Hague, Netherlands on June 30 2018. In total, the 11-leg race will visit 12 cities in six continents: Alicante, Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg, and The Hague. A maximum of eight teams will compete.

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