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great balls of fire

 
I always believe a good writer reports on a story in the third person but yesterday it was hard not to be sucked into the emotion of the team as Dongfeng Race Team pulled the rabbit out of the hat to become the first Chiense team to win the Volvo Ocean Race.
AS we all know by now, three teams started Leg 11 of the Volvo effectively on equal points and they remained close with the two red boats head to head and Brunel not far behind and the second Dutch boat also in the mix.
Between Gothenburg and The Hague I popped across to the Solent and as a  system came through the wind softened considerably. Now as the weather works along that part of the world it was likely that same system would impact off Holland a little while later. I was therefore NOT surprised when DFRT took a sharp right to come towards the finish round the East side of the various exclusion zones but thought Brunel and Mapfre might be the ones taking the gamble by not covering.
At the boats rounded the zones it was apparent that the wind was indeed softening to the west while the gradient wind in the east was, if anything being helped by the sea breeze effect. Add to that Dongfeng sailing in a reaching breeze while the left side was more or less downwind and therefore slower. In fact at times the VMG difference was in double figures.
We were out on the team RIB and as Dongfeng hove into view she had already picked up a veritable flotilla of RIBs, larger motor boats and sailing yachts keeping station a few bot lengths behind. As you can imagine the emotion levels on the RIB were sky high with high fives, back breaking hugs and shouts of Dongfeng Jia You (Go Dongfeng) – the party had begun.
In advance of the leg the sponsors had told the team they were more than happy with the result and just “sail the leg for themselves” and that is apparently what they did, they dug in there for the first couple of days and then off the coast of Denmark made the inspired call, grabbed their balls in both hands and headed for the eastern most corner of the exclusion zones.
Initially this looked like it hadn’t paid off with, to the uninitiated, showing Dongfeng 50 miles behind. Of course in reality they were never this far back due to the ‘line of sight’ nature of the tracker BUT they certainly were not in front in terms of distance to sail.
Then the move started to pay off. The wind went softer in the west and came further aft on the boats over there while Dongfeng along with Turn the Tide and Scallywag were in a stronger reaching breeze. Bums were on the edge of seats as the deficit rattled down sometimes with speed differences of 4,  or 6 knots with at one point the VMG in the west showing a negative figure.
The important measuring point wasn’t the finish line but the final turning mark which Dongfeng reached comfortably ahead of Akzonobel and more importantly Brunel and Mapfre and as her red and white headsail emblazoned with the circling swallows of her sponsor Dongfeng appeared in the distance cheers rose on the support RIB.
The buzz just continued, reached a crescendo as the ’65 crossed the finish line and continued on the dock as nearly the whole team climbed on board where tears of joy (and I am sure perhaps a little with relief) were much in evidence. It all then transferred to the Sailor’s Terrace along a reverse sailors walk and on into the team base later – much later. A couple then de-camped to meet with the ‘Green Dragon powered by UBOX’ team from the Legends Race who had come all the way from China to be part of this occasion where the party continued. In fact as the DFRT members walked into the restaurant on came the music “We are the Champions”.
It is important to remember that the host city also plays its part. Yesterday, moving from one part of the village to another took an age and as the spectator fleet started to return to port there was a similar jam with boats having to come to a halt such was the volume. At one point a small Navy ship sounded “5 toots”. Quite how he expected the craft ahead of him to get out of the way I don’t know.
This morning many of the Dongfeng guys still have that half smile of satisfaction on their faces and, frankly, who could blame them. They had just won the closest Volvo Ocean Race in history and done so in dramatic fashion. First Chinese team to win the Volvo Ocean Race; Marie & Carolijn the first female winners of the event; Leg 11 Winners; Fastest Team around the planet. And what about Charles Caudrelier’s record 1;3;1 from 3 races, that’s right up there with the greats in terms of average performance.
Now the harder work for everyone starts, the interviews, the photo shoots and all the paraphernalia that goes with winning the worlds toughest sporting event. – SS