The Chinese team in the next Volvo Ocean Race became the first to take delivery of its newly-refitted race boat today, marking the formal beginning of Dongfeng Race Team's second campaign in the world's toughest fully-crewed ocean race that will start from Alicante in October this year.
Fittingly, the handover of the boat at the Volvo Ocean Race's Boatyard facility in Lisbon, Portugal, comes on the eve of Chinese New Year - the beginning of the year of the Rooster, a Chinese sign of the zodiac noted for its energy.
Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charles Caudrelier has already been working hard for months on a new campaign that he hopes will be a progressive follow-up to the team's impressive third place on debut in the Volvo Ocean Race in 2014-15.
This campaign is exclusively backed by Dongfeng Motor Corporation, one of the largest automobile manufacturers in China, based in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. It will again feature a mixed Chinese and western crew and will take advantage of new rules designed to encourage female sailors to take part in the world's premier fully-crewed professional sailing race.
"Getting our hands on the boat today is another huge step for us," said Caudrelier. "It marks the beginning of another adventure for our team and the moment that we start our training programme in earnest. In the next few weeks we will also be able to finalise our crew selection."
Caudrelier's technical team were full of praise for the workforce at the Boatyard who, under the watchful eye of Dongfeng's Boat Captain Graham Tourell and Technical Manager Neil Graham, have been giving the Chinese Volvo Ocean 65 a complete overhaul in the last two months.
The Chinese-flagged thoroughbred now sports a gleaming and eye-catching new colour scheme and branding, while more than 500 items of kit on board have been either upgraded or replaced, alongside new sails, deck gear, electronics and a new media and navigation station.
"We have our boat back and she is still the same one that we got to know last time," said Graham Tourell. "But really she is almost new with some innovative upgrades - everything has been either replaced or renewed and she looks stunning in her new livery.
"It's great to have the boat back in the sort of condition you'd expect it to be in – she was fairly battered after the last race, so she deserved some TLC," he added.
The handover comes two years to the day after one of the tumultuous moments of the last campaign when Dongfeng won the leg from Abu Dhabi into its home port of Sanya in China. "That was an incredible time for us," recalled Caudrelier. "We are now getting down to the hard work that we hope will put us in contention to repeat achievements like that."
On crew selection the 42-year-old Frenchman is still not revealing the full line-up for the eight-month marathon. However, the team will again feature at least two Chinese sailors who were selected and trained by Dongfeng for the last race, some French Volvo Ocean Race veterans and sailors from other nations.
"We are looking for people who are competitive, determined to succeed and committed to our cause," noted Caudrelier, who recently skippered a mixed crew made up of potential Dongfeng sailors and other young Chinese sailors that finished in third place on handicap in the Rolex Sydney Hobart classic. "Competition for each slot on the boat is exceptionally tough but we are determined to take our time and make sure we have the right mix," he added.
With the main phase of boat preparation now completed the focus switches to Dongfeng Race Team's on-the-water training and racing programme in the lead-up to the Volvo Ocean Race start from Alicante in Spain on October 22.
After several weeks of training based out of Lisbon and then Lorient in Brittany, upcoming commitments include the Spi Ouest-France Regatta in April and the Rolex Fastnet Race and Plymouth to Lisbon race in August.
Dongfeng Race Team also welcomed today's announcement by the Volvo Ocean Race of Melbourne as a stopover port at the end of leg three that starts from Cape Town. The 6,300 nautical mile leg will score double points and will be a big test of racing skill in the Southern Ocean with the first boats expected to reach Melbourne on or around Christmas Day.
"This is a great way to break up what would have been an exceptionally long leg to Hong Kong," commented Caudrelier. "As a team we are relishing the new emphasis in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race on racing in the Southern Ocean and leg three is going to be one of the biggest challenges we will face," he added.
As with the first Dongfeng entry in the Volvo Ocean Race, this campaign is managed by, OC Sport, the global sports marketing and events company specialising in professional sailing and outdoor events including running, cycling and winter sports, plus more extreme sports including adventure racing and trail running.
January 27: Handover of Dongfeng boat by the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard, Lisbon (Portugal)
February: Training in Lisbon
Early March: Team back at Lorient team base (France)
April 13-17: Spi Ouest France in La Trinité (France)
August 6: Rolex Fastnet Race (UK)
August 10: Volvo 65 Plymouth to Lisbon race
October 22: Volvo Ocean Race start from Alicante (Spain)
Video News Release (VNR):
URL: https://volvooceanrace.brickftp.com/ (or via Dropbox link)
INT Charles Caudrelier, Dongfeng Race Team skipper (ENG)
INT Neil Cox, Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard, Lisbon
Boat launch footage
Sailing footage in Lisbon