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Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

Dongfeng becomes first Chinese boat to win Volvo Ocean Race; David Witt, of Hong Kong’s Scallywag, just happy to finish

French skipper Charles Caudrelier takes a gamble that paid of handsomely as Dongfeng pips main rivals Mapfre and Team Brunel for overall honours

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 1:26am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2018, 1:31am

The Chinese flag was flying high over the justice capital of the world on Sunday after Dongfeng Race Team pulled off a dramatic gamble to pip main rivals Mapfre and Team Brunel for overall honours in the Volvo Ocean Race – the first mainland-owned boat to win the planet’s most prestigious round-the-world yacht race.

Dongfeng, skippered by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier, on Saturday took the coastal route into The Hague in the Netherlands from Gothenburg in Sweden after findinging themselves more than 50 miles off the leaders heading for the finish line.

With their rivals coming in from the east, it seemed like the move would backfire but when it came to the finish, Dongfeng was able to overtake the leaders as they struggled for winds. It was the closest finish in the 45-year history of the race. The boat is sponsored by Dongfeng Motor Corporation, a Chinese state-owned car maker based in Wuhan.

“I can’t believe it,” said Caudrelier. “There was so much attrition in our races, we were always in good positions [in previous races] but in the last part we fade. I said we have to win, I have a fantastic team around me and we won.

“Even today, we were not in such a good position but we trusted our choices and we won and I have to say thank you to Dongfeng for giving me this trust.

“I’m not sure I am the best skipper in the fleet but I’m sure I have the best crew around me. I had a good feeling we would win, I thought we couldn’t lose and we won.”

Dongfeng finished at 10.22pm (Hong Kong time) on Sunday night, almost 16 minutes ahead of Team AkzoNobel with Spain’s Mapfre third and Team Brunel fourth.

Hong Kong’s Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag was sixth behind Turn the Tide on Plastic to finish sixth overall, with Vestas 11th Hour Racing finishing seventh into The Hague.

It was Dongfeng’s first leg win of the 11-leg, nine-month, 45,000-mile race that started in Alicante, Spain last year and it could not have come at a better time. Dongfeng finished on 73 points, three ahead of Mapfre with Brunel third on 69 points. They are followed by AkzoNobel (39), Vestas (39), Scallywag (32) and Turn the Tide on Plastic (32).

Although Scallywag and Plastic finished equal on points, the Hong Kong boat avoids last place because it performed better in the in-port races.

For Scallywag skipper David Witt, finishing the final leg came with mixed emotions – pride at completing the race and sadness that he wasn’t able to share the moment with his best friend John Fisher, who went overboard during leg six from Auckland to Itajai, Brazil and is presumed lost at sea.

“I’m proud I finally finished something I have wanted to do for 20 years,” said Witt, who steered the boat to leg four victory from Melbourne to Hong Kong and then second place from Hong Kong to Auckland. “I”m proud of the team on and off the water. We are very tight and we have gone through a lot.

“I’m happy to do it with my mate and sponsor [team owner SH Lee], he did the last leg with us. But I’m sad that I didn’t finish it with my best mate [John]. I’m glad it’s finished.

“I think coming here, we’ve got the youngest crew overall, four or five of them are under 30 and they are all talking about going again next time.”

As for Witt, he said he would have a few beers with Lee and see what happens.