2018-06-28 / News

Dongfeng captures Volvo race

American boat, Vestas 11th Hour Racing, finishes fifth

Vestas 11th Hour Racing leads during the Gothenburg in-port race in mid-June. The American team held on to win that leg. 
JESUS RENEDO/VOLVO OCEAN RACE Vestas 11th Hour Racing leads during the Gothenburg in-port race in mid-June. The American team held on to win that leg. JESUS RENEDO/VOLVO OCEAN RACE A sailboat race around the globe that resembled a rollercoaster ride for Vestas 11th Hour Racing concluded with a fifth-place finish for the American team during the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race.

“It might not be the fairytale ending we were hoping for, but I am proud to have gone around the world with this team,” said skipper Charlie Enright, a Bristol native and former All-American sailor at Brown University. Enright co-founded the team with Hawaiian Mark Towill.

Winning the closest finish in the race’s 45-history was Dongfeng Race Team, the Chinese boat skippered by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier. The final leg to The Hague, a 970-mile sprint from Sweden, steered the team three points clear of MAPRE, the Spanish team led by countryman Xabi Fernandez. Dutchman Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel finished in third place, one point shy of MAPRE.

The 11th and final leg of the 46,000-nautical-mile circumnavigation started last Thursday in a dead heat between the three leaders. Each boat led during the leg, but it was Caudrelier who made a bold call on Saturday evening to take a coastal route to the Netherlands. That decision squeezed Dongfeng tight against the shoreline, separating them from MAPRE and Brunel by a series of exclusion zones.

“We were not in a good position, but we trusted our choice,” Caudrelier said. “The others didn’t follow us, but we believed.”

At first, the decision hurt the team as they tumbled down the leaderboard. Luckily for Dongfeng, however, nobody broke away from the fleet overnight. When Caudrelier looked at the final position report Sunday morning, it showed his team 27 miles from the finish. The leaders only had 20 miles ahead of them.

“We thought it was over,” he said.

Caudrelier, however, did a weather routing. It showed Dongfeng could finish a mile ahead, so Caudrelier woke up his crew. “Let’s push,” he told them.

As the teams converged a few miles from the finish, it was Dongfeng flying down the coast from the north, sliding in front of the offshore group to earn its first leg win, propelling Caudrelier’s team to overall victory.

“We always trusted each other,” he said. “Nobody thought we were going to win this last leg, but I had a good feeling.”

As for the American team, the rollercoaster ride began at the top with a first-place finish in the opening leg in October from Spain to Portugal. Then, in the fourth leg in January to Hong Kong, Vestas was involved in a fatal collision with a fishing vessel. Although nobody on the Volvo boat was injured, a Chinese fisherman was thrown overboard and could not be resuscitated. Vestas retired from that leg.

To make matters worse, the American boat suffered a gash in the accident, which sidelined the team for the fifth and sixth legs while repairs were made to the hull. Finally, back on the water, Vestas dismasted 100 miles southeast from the Falkland Islands on the leg from New Zealand to Brazil.

A wave of good news, however, finally washed ashore for the Americans. After installing a new mast in Itajai, Vestas arrived in Narragansett Bay on May 8, where Enright learned to sail, winning the bronze medal in the team’s first leg finish since the Jan. 19 collision. The May visit to Rhode Island was followed by the team’s first in-port race victory during the Gothenburg stopover.

“We look forward to what the future holds,” said Towill. “We are proud of the legacy that we built as our team raced around the world, across four oceans, touching six continents and 12 host cities.”

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