Dongfeng Race Team stormed down the western Solent to lead the fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s in the Rolex Fastnet Race – part two of the Leg Zero qualifying series for the Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18.
With 2.5 knots of outgoing tide against 18-21 knots of south westerly wind, the Chinese team, skippered by Charles Caudrelier, secured their lead by expertly covering the rest of the tightly bunched fleet.
The two red boats, MAPFRE and Dongfeng Racing won the start but the Spanish team were held up by bad wind coming off Nikata, the biggest boat in the race at 115 feet. In fact, all the Volvo Ocean Race sailors were challenged by having to sail around the record 390-boat fleet in this 605-nautical mile offshore classic.
Sailing in a mixed boat fleet will not be a challenge after this section of Leg Zero. Following the Fastnet, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet will complete two more legs – Plymouth to Saint-Malo and Saint-Malo to Lisbon – without any other boats as a distraction, or hindrance.
The opening leg of Leg Zero was a 50nm sprint around the Isle of Wight, won in record-breaking fashion by MAPFRE.
That makes the Fastnet the first offshore test for the teams that will take the start line of the Volvo Ocean Race on 22 October in Alicante.
“It’s the first time we are all going to sail offshore against the other boats so it’s important to see where we are amongst the other boats,” said Caudrelier. “It’s a good race to train, to start racing together.”
As the boats reached the famous chalky cliffs of the Needles, Dongfeng led by 0.3 nm from Vestas 11th Hour Racing, with MAPFRE in third.
Team AkzoNobel, Team Brunel, Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag and Turn the Tide on Plastic were closely grouped behind, with only 0.6 nm separating the entire fleet.
Leaving the Isle of Wight behind, the fleet will face stable upwind conditions until Land’s End where scrambled winds from an old cold front, and strong tides await. This transition will be hard fought and could split the fleet, with opportunities for more experienced teams to react faster to the changing circumstances.
While an overall Leg Zero winner will be declared, no points will be carried through to the Volvo Ocean Race itself, meaning there’s particular value in the series for some of the later teams to enter.
David Witt, skipper of Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, said: “The longer we can sail in the same water as MAPFRE and Dongfeng, the more we’re going to learn. Just don’t expect us to set the world on fire until the real stuff happens.”
The boats are due at the Fastnet Rock at around 0600 UTC on Tuesday, whereupon they will sail downwind in conditions building from 15-20 knots before a reach to the finish in Plymouth late on Tuesday night.
The fleet will re-start from Plymouth on the leg to Saint-Malo on Thursday.
(more info about Leg Zero races)