Photos; Yann Riou / Dongfeng Race Team

Dongfeng update

Rallying to get the Franco-Chinese VO65 up the Beagle Channel

Monday March 30th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

While everyone onboard Dongfeng Race Team remains in good shape considering the circumstances, the final miles to Ushuaia are anything but easy. Concerns about the mast’s stability and a very tricky entrance to the Beagle Channel will be high up the list of concerns for skipper and crew.

Despite working throughout their day, which is now drawing to a close, the determined crew of Dongfeng have not managed to remove all the damaged parts of the broken mast. The original rigging that holds up the remaining main section of mast is only in place on the port side. By using other cables and lines from the mast, the crew is trying to secure the mast so that when they approach the difficult entrance to the Beagle Channel they are more able to manoeuvre, with less risk of the remaining main section of the mast coming down. This is not an easy job since as it is unstable, it has been impossible to send someone up the mast (who would also need to free climb up to that point to work). Consequently the broken top mast is still hanging down, and the mainsail still threaded through it.

As nightfall descends on Dongfeng, she is still 50 miles (estimated five or so hours at current speed of 12 knots) from the entrance to the Beagle South Channel in Chilean waters. This is the narrow waterway that leads to the Argentinian port of Ushuaia, a further 60 miles to the east.

Volvo Ocean Race Control and the local MRCC, along with experts on the area such as Whitbread legend Skip Novak have been supporting Pascal Bidegorry and Charles Caudrelier’s planning for what can be a tricky entrance.

The Channel itself is famous for its sudden and strong gusts of wind coming down from the surrounding mountains. While Dongfeng should be able to navigate safely in this zone, her lack of manoeuvrability is of course a factor to take in to account. Chilean authorities are aiming to provide a RIB to assist their entry in to the Channel.

Under the rules, Dongfeng may use her engine when she wishes to – but will have to return to the position that it was started if they were to rejoin the leg.

At this point skipper Dongfeng Race Team has not officially retired. This final decision is likely to be taken once the boat is safely alongside the dock in Ushuaia. There are two points to save on the leaderboard, which who knows how important they could become in Dongfeng’s quest to finish on the podium in Gothenburg. However, the balancing issue is that to sail slowly under a jury rig, right back to the west and around Cape Horn as required in the rules, and then up to Itajai could compromise the team’s ability to be fully ready for leg 6 starting from Itajai in less than three weeks' time.

Dongfeng’s shore team is on its way from Chile and Europe to Ushuaia – in plan A, a retirement from the leg, they would take over onboard once Dongfeng arrives. After securing the rig properly, and stocking up on fuel for the engine, they would then motor/sail as fast as possible up to Itajai, Brazil.

At the same time, Volvo Ocean Race, GAC Logistics and Dongfeng’s operations teams are working through the options for getting a replacement mast to Itajai. If there was unlimited budget, it would be quite easy, just hire a plane! The realistic plan is to find a scheduled cargo flight that can get the mast to Brazil, from where it can be trucked to the Itajai port, and prepared ready for the boat’s arrival.

To add to the challenges, there appears to be a general strike in Argentina, and the real possibility of no flights in to Ushuaia tomorrow!

Plenty of challenges then remain for the determined men and women of Dongfeng Race Team – on the boat and on land. But the focus and energy are there to get the team back on track! There are still four out of nine full legs left to race.


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