Dongfeng Race Team

“Charles is one of the most determined guys I’ve ever met. His mindset is to go fast, and that’s what we are here to do with him.”

Volvo Ocean Race
Dongfeng Race Team was the first team to commit to a coed squad with the hiring of Dutch Olympian and VOR veteran Carolijn Brouwer.Martin Keruzore/Volvo Ocean Race

Hailing From: China | Skipper: Charles Caudrelier | Navigator: Pascal Bidégorry

If it weren’t for its Southern Ocean dismasting in the 2014-15 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, Dongfeng Race Team could very well have gone on to win on its first try. But in this race, what-ifs mean nothing when it comes to the final results. Instead, the international crew finished third, an incredible performance for its French skipper Charles Caudrelier, who spent a formidable portion of his campaign training up Chinese sailors from scratch.

Not this time. Caudrelier retained a few of his essential crewmembers, as well as his talented Chinese crewmen “Wolf,” “Black,” and “Horace,” and has spent the better part of the year entrenched at home in Lorient, France, honing the collective skills of a talented and diverse cast of sailors. He has his returning navigator Pascal Bidégorry by his side and New Zealanders Stu Bannatyne and Daryl Wislang, who won with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. Olympian Marie Riou and Team SCA alum Carolijn Brouwer, are in the mix, as is one of the most outstanding young sailors in the singlehanded offshore-racing world, Jack Bouttell, of Australia.

“The team is very diverse,” says Bouttell, Donfeng’s under-30 bowman, “and while that brings complications, it also brings a lot of strengths. With a lot of the same people from the last campaign, most everyone knows what works best and what makes people happy.”

The team has been training in France almost full-time since late January, exploring the nuances of the boat and its new sail inventory. In the previous edition, Dongfeng was considered to be one of the quickest in light air, but by the end of the race, other teams had adapted its trimming style.

“With this race, the speed differences will be much closer,” says Bouttell. “We have one extra sail (J-Zero) and the other sails are slightly different shapes, so we’ve been working on where the sail crossovers are and where the J-Zero sits in that inventory. It’s a big part of it, trying to work out how to fit that sail into the crossover.”

Between the four sails that fly off the bowsprit and the J1, he says, there are times when the crossovers are very, very small, and finding the sweet spots will prove to be the difference.

The disappointment of the last race is long gone from Caudrelier’s mind, but the experience does motivate him, says Bouttell. “He’s a very solo-minded sailor and takes everything upon himself — not in terms of doing it, but bearing the responsibility for the success of the entire campaign. The take-away from that race, I believe, was that recovering from big incidences like that is part of the head game we have to win. We’ll be stronger having dealt with it.”

While Dongfeng might be considered an early favorite on account of its deep crew and its early preparation, Bouttell is adamant that Caudrelier and anyone else in the Dongfeng camp doesn’t believe so. “We’ve had good progress, but there is a lot of work to do. We’re pushing 100 percent like everyone else to be the best we can.”

Caudrelier’s greatest asset, Bouttell adds, is that he trusts everyone to perform in their areas and leaves it to the individuals to excel, just as they would as solo sailors. “Charles is one of the most determined guys I’ve ever met,” says Bouttell. “His mindset is to go fast, and that’s what we are here to do with him.”