Photos: Ainhoa Sanchez / Volvo Ocean Race

Narrow victory for Abu Dhabi

Ian Walker's crew claims victory just 12 minutes ahead of Dongfeng

Wednesday November 5th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: South Africa

Ian Walker and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team hung on to claim victory on the Volvo Ocean Race's first leg into Cape Town. But most impressive was that the UAE Volvo Ocean 65 crossed the finish line 1510 UTC, just 12 minutes and four seconds ahead Dongfeng Race Team, after 6,487 nautical miles and 25 days, three hours and 10 minutes of intense racing.

For 44 year old skipper Ian Walker, the nail biting continued with under Cape Town's iconic Table Mountain with wind in perilously short supply and Caudrelier’s crew, tried all manner of manoeuvres, some under the cover of darkness, enabling them to close on the UAE team before Azzam finally claimed victory.


The win represented a personal triumph for Walker after his yacht dismasted on the first night of this leg three years ago and he was forced to motor back into Alicante. Red-eyed after sleep deprivation for so long, Walker commented: "It's quite emotional actually. I didn't think I would be - but that last couple of hours, they threw everything at us. We've had people ride on our heels for the last 10 days or so. I must congratulate Dongfeng: An absolutely fantastic performance."

In contrast, Caudrelier looked like he had thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the chase and the opportunity to prove a point to those who doubted that his crew, that included two Chinese rookies, could seriously compete at the front of the fleet. Repeatedly they have made some of the greatst comeback over the course of this leg and over the past week have been nibbled away at Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s lead at one point even momentarily pulling ahead. 

Caudrelier commented: “As a team we might not have much experience in the Volvo Ocean Race, but my men know how to fight and they fight for every 1 per cent. I have a great team around me and for leg 1 we are really happy. We were not the favourites, we knew this, but I also knew we could do great things. I chose men that could fight.”

The Dongfeng team includes a lot of Figaro sailors who are used to fighting for every metre and who are used to doing many different jobs onboard - a key factor in the crew selection to build a team that could support and train the Chinese sailors in the best way possible.

Caudrelier continued: “For the Chinese guys it’s been the toughest race. They have never done proper offshore racing before; we all work together and without them we wouldn’t be here – it’s awesome what they’ve done. I’m proud of them and they can be proud of themselves; they are ready to help no matter what – they’re two fantastic guys.

“There is for sure a bit of frustration right at the finish, we thought we could come back. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing has done a fantastic race and deserve this. We were not the favourite but we have a story to tell with the Chinese sailors and so if we can do both – teach them and have a good result – we are very proud of that. It has been a fight – I think the race is going to be very, very hard!

“It’s only the first leg and there are nine more to go. And we will have to start again with other Chinese guys onboard in the next legs – this is a key part of this project that we have embraced. But I am really happy we started like this and I feel we deserve it. It was not always easy in the build up to the start travelling from China to Europe then to the USA but it was necessary and the Chinese guys have been though a lot of training and they deserve this.

“We have no regrets – we had a few problems and we carried on, I’m proud of my men.”

Before the start of Leg 1, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing was the favourite to win and Ian Walker’s crew have proved themselves worthy of this status, rarely dropping out of the top spots. For Dongfeng, the expectations were different – ‘underdogs’, ‘wild card’ were terms used by some, but this team had a quiet confidence, preferring their performance on the racecourse to do the talking. They have overcome breakages and challenges and tough relentless competition from more experienced Volvo Ocean Race teams, and in doing so have demonstrated amazing seamanship, rapid practical repair skills, tactical know-how and the ability to sail the boat fast particularly off the wind (ie wind from behind). To that end they have proved themselves to be contenders..

“I am a proud and relieved man today,” said Dongfeng Race Team Project Director, Bruno Dubois. “The guys have done an incredible job on this first leg supported by our great partners – Dongfeng Trucks who bought us ‘east wind’, Aeolus Tyres who were the ‘guardian of the wind’ and the City of Shiyan!”

For the rest of the fleet, it’s now a battle for the minor places and equally hard-won points. Team Brunel should take third later on Wednesday with Team Vestas Wind looking good for fourth. Team Alvimedica is expected to be too far ahead to be caught in fifth, but MAPFRE and Team SCA could yet have a big tussle for sixth and seventh spots before their expected arrival in Cape Town on Friday.


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