An offshore sailing powerhouse China is not, but it is the world’s largest economy, and an important commercial partner of the race. With Volvo AB (Volvo trucks, which owns the race) purchasing 45 percent of Dongfeng Motor Group in 2014, they’re now a truck manufacturing power in the world’s largest truck market.
To kickstart a new generation of offshore sailors, Dongfeng enlisted French skipper Charles Caudrelier to lead the enviable task of developing a team from scratch. Caudrielier is the least known of the VOR skippers, but he served as performance manager with Frank Cammas’ Groupama (winner of the last edition). He’s a whiz with the technical, and his equal on the management side is Groupama teammate Martin Stromberg, of Sweden, said to be the “glue” between Dongfeng’s four Chinese natives and the remaining French crew crewmembers.
The program is small in scale and most of its early days were spent trying out Chinese candidates. The language barrier will be an undeniable challenge. “It’s very difficult,” says Caudrielier, “especially with three languages, but that is what the training is for, to improve the communications. Everyone speaks English, but some not very well.”
The first step to assimilating this first-generation of Chinese ocean racers into the offshore racing fraternity was to assign them nicknames. The hopes of a rising sailing nation are therefore riding on Kit, Leo, Horace, and Wolf.