Published: Monday, 26 January 2015

A thrilling finish looks to be in store for Leg 3 of the Volvo Ocean Race after the chasing pack made big inroads into Dongfeng Race Team’s once huge lead early on Sunday with just over 24 hours to sail to the finish in Sanya.

Skipper Charles Caudrelier’s (FRA) crew led by more than 106 nautical miles (nm) approaching the Malacca Strait, but gradually the advantage has been clawed back on this fascinating stage from Abu Dhabi to Sanya on Hainan Island in Southern China.

Dongfeng On Course For Thrilling Volvo Finish 1

(Photo: Sam Greenfield/Dongfeng Race Team/Volvo Ocean Race)

Understandably, the French skipper and his team are feeling the pressure as the chasing pack led by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR) threatened their hopes of becoming the first Chinese-backed team to win a leg in offshore sailing’s most prestigious round-the-world race.

Dongfeng On Course For Thrilling Volvo Finish 2

(Photo: Matt Knighton/Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing/Volvo Ocean Race)

Victory in the 4,670nm stage, which started on January 3 in Abu Dhabi, would also put Dongfeng Race Team top of the overall standings on five points ahead of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Brunel, which won Legs 1 and 2, respectively.

“Onboard Dongfeng we must stay concentrated… the finish line is still a long way away,” Caudrelier warned in a blog from the boat as the fleet headed towards the Vietnamese coast before the weekend.

As of Monday morning in Asia, Dongfeng was 297nm away from the Sanya finish line with a lead of 57.2nm over Leg 1 winners Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing with Team Alvimedica (Charles Enright/USA), MAPFRE (Xabi Fernández/ESP) and Team Brunel (Bouwe Bekking/NED) within 65-82nm of Dongfeng.

Dongfeng On Course For Thrilling Volvo Finish

(Photo: Francisco Vignale/MAPFRE/Volvo Ocean Race)

Dongfeng On Course For Thrilling Volvo Finish 3

(Photo: Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race)

Team SCA (Sam Davies/GBR) made good gains on the weekend to get within 70nm of the leaders, but by Monday morning the all-female team had fallen back to 146.3nm.

Dongfeng On Course For Thrilling Volvo Finish 5

(Photo: Corinna Halloran/Team SCA/Volvo Ocean Race)

All the fleet had been slaloming back and forth with gybe after gybe to avoid the numerous obstacles, including a series of near misses with fishing vessels and their nets just off the Vietnamese coast.

Dongfeng On Course For Thrilling Volvo Finish 4

(Photo: Stefan Coppers/Team Brunel/Volvo Ocean Race)

Walker described that process during Saturday night as “possibly the single hardest night of the race”, while Enright went further: “It was the most intense night of sailing of my entire life.”

The sailors are heading for an amazing welcome in Sanya. The Race Village opened on Saturday to large crowds and is sure to repeat last edition’s (2011-12) fantastic receptions for the fleet no matter what time of day or night they arrive. The first boats are expected there on Tuesday, Jan 27.