Dongfeng Race Team have stretched their lead at the head of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet in the third leg to China.
Charles Caudrelier’s crew are aiming to become the first Chinese boat to win a leg in offshore sailing’s leading round-the-world race, which was first held in 1973.
There would be no better place to do it than Sanya, their home port on the southern tip of China, which is the destination of the 4,670-nautical mile Leg 3 that began in Abu Dhabi on January 3 and is likely to be completed around January 24.
On Sunday, after nine days of sailing, they had increased their lead of just under 14 miles over closest challengers, Team Brunel of the Netherlands.
The boats were locked at the top of the standings before the start of the leg on four points with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, who are sitting just back of Brunel 14.5nm behind the lead boat.
Caudrelier, in his Dongfeng team blog entry on Sunday, wrote of what lies ahead on this leg:
“One thing that is obsessing me at the moment is how far off India should we pass – an almost impossible decision.
“The island of Sri Lanka is more than 2000 metres high, and creates a wind shadow to its south of more than 200km … we can head south but we’ll sail many more miles, and there isn’t much wind in the south either.
“This must be the question all the navigators are asking themselves over the past few days, but soon we all have to make the decision.”
With the three boats mostly tightly bunched at the front, with fourth-placed Spanish boat Mapfre 32.4nm off the lead pace, the next few days could be make-or-break for winning this leg.
“We are now approaching the Southern tip of India after an 800-mile port, light air, running drag race,” wrote Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker.
“Looking ahead we will soon be sheeting on and sailing tighter angles as we cross the windy section between Sri Lanka and India. Hopefully tight reaching will prove to be a strong point but let’s see.
“Conditions aboard are getting hotter but we still haven’t had a wave over the deck all leg. In the next 24 hours that will change as we head upwind in over 20 knots.”
The fleet still have just under 3,000 nautical miles to sail, including a hazardous stretch through the Malacca Strait, which is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and separates the Indonesian island of Sumatra from Malaysia.
The racing boats will need to dodge slow-moving fishing vessels and all kinds of debris in the much-polluted waters.
Meanwhile, Team Vestas Wind, the Danish boat that was grounded during Leg 2 from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi on November 29, was heading for Italy for a rebuild.
The target is to return the badly damaged vessel to the race for the final two legs from Lisbon in June.
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