not so poor

I have been asked to comment on ‘Poor Dong Feng’ after their fall in the last few miles from leader to entirely off the podium. Before any of that however, let’s just say “Well done Mapfre”. To be near the back of the fleet a week ago and to come through to take the win from Brunel was remarkable and all credit to them.
I have seen and heard comments about teams ‘deserving the win’ or that it is ‘cruel’ that another team didn’t win and, well the race is from start line to finish line and I find it very hard to think that any other boat than the first over that finish line, wherever that line is set, is the boat that deserves the win because they played the best hand with ALL the cards dealt them.
When you have a fleet so competitive that after 5,700 miles of OCEAN racing the top 5 boats were within single figures from each other in terms of miles when the compression came is proof of how competitive this fleet actually is.
Would they have been so close with an open rule or even a box rule? I doubt it and the spin off with the boats in this race is that being one design and, in spite of what others may feel, tough instead of fragile has meant that this sort of theatre has unfolded time and time again in this edition (and the last one) of the Volvo Ocean Race.
The closeness at the end in Auckland with lead swaps and the uncertainty of a Brunel win until the last few miles into Itajai is testament to how tough it is to grind out a win in this race.
The Newport finish however did prove to be a lottery, light winds coupled to an outgoing tide and river flow meant that, not only did Dongfeng suffer but Mapfre and Brunel spent an age getting up the river. A lead of 2.8 miles over Brunel and 8 over Mapfre evaporated faster than the Newport fog.
Ocean racing it was not and I know many people who switched off and literally went down the pub. Of course the dyed in the wool sailing fan was there to the end but that is not the metric that brings a smile to the sponsors’ faces, it is the ordinary sports fan who likes to see a bit action while being encouraged to drink out of their re-usable bottle or whatever.
That however is by the by and perhaps something that the Volvo Ocean Race needs to consider for future events that almost 6,000 miles and over 2 weeks of racing perhaps shouldn’t come down to a dozen or so miles drifting up (and down) on the ebb tide of an estuary.
Of course it cuts both ways. This time Dongfeng was a victim of that lottery.
Last time, in what was the leg after their mast failure 250 miles from Cape Horn and the race within a race to get the boat and a replacement mast to Itajai they sailed into Newport, again at night, again in the lightest of winds – can’t quite remember what the tide was doing – but they won by beating Abu Dhabi, the eventual overall winner by less than a minute if I remember correctly.
Are the team down? Of course they are not happy but this is a team with a capital “T”.
I am fortunate have known them since the Chinese sailor selection trials in Sanya before the last race. Most of the Chinese sailors and personnel selected then are still with them, either on the boat or shore team. most of the Westerners are also sailing round the world for the second time in Donfeng colours. They have a sponsor which is 100% behind them and sent a ‘well done’ message almost within minutes of their finish.
They have a skipper with a remarkable record in the race so far. Winner as watch leader on Groupama, podium last time round and currently 2nd overall – not a bad batting average. Navigator Pascal Bidegorry is still (after 9 years) the fastest across the Atlantic, West to East and they have a team spirit which has to be seen to believed.
I have been lucky across the past two campaigns (and a Sydney Hobart in between) to be allowed into the periphery of the team and they are the epitome of “there is no I in team”. I have been in their company at dinners and it is noticeable they don’t disperse, they enter together.
Write about my views of “poor Dongfeng was what I was asked? Well with three legs to go including the Atlantic which is the playground of Charles and Pascal, 3 points behind and the point for shortest elapsed time (barring disasters) in the bag. One boat between Dongfeng and Mapfre in the TransAt and would be all change again.
As Dongfeng’s Technical Director Albert Graham put it while being interviewed by Volvo’s Amy Monkman “It is part of yacht racing and there an element of luck (perhaps DFRT have now had their helping of bad luck) The spirit in the team is really good and (the position) augers well for the last 3 legs. There are still 30% of the points left.”
If anyone has any doubt of the team’s attitude and spirit just watch their latest upload to youtube.
“Poor Dongfeng”?  I don’t think so!