Published: Thursday, 26 February 2015

Victory is close but still anything can happen with just 500 nautical miles to go. Dongfeng Race Team Skipper Charles Caudrelier (FRA) is taking nothing for granted.

The men of Dongfeng Race Team, just 51.8nm separate from the last-placed boat Team SCA (Sam Davies/GRB) know that with the light winds expected in the final stretch, it is quite possible that the fleet could bunch even closer together.

No Sleep Until Auckland In Leg 4 Of The Volvo Ocean Race

(Photo by Sam Greenfield / Dongfeng Race Team)

Caudrelier’s crew, victors in the previous leg from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, were pursued by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (Ian Walker/GBR), just 3.5nm in their wake, with Mapfre (Xabi Fernández/ESP) still holding third spot, 12.3nm in arrears (0340 UTC).

“Since last night, we re-took the lead again and with it, the pressure of being in front,” says Caudrelier. “To be in the lead after all the hard knocks we’ve taken on this leg is without doubt one of our team's proudest moments since the start of this race [on Oct 11, 2014]. We’ve had really hard moments, phases of total exhaustion, and moments of real frustration and anger, but onboard there is always someone ready to motivate the others, someone with a positive outlook.”

No Sleep Until Auckland In Leg 4 Of The Volvo Ocean Race 1

(Photo by Matt Knighton / Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing)

During the day Caudrelier tries to call Walker on the VHF but there’s no answer.

“Today is Ian’s birthday. Tomorrow is mine,” he says, going back to hailing Walker on the radio, but to no avail.

Instead, he sends an email and within five minutes Walker writes back saying he disconnected the VHF weeks ago.

Walker goes on to say that maybe, since it’s Caudrelier’s birthday tomorrow, he might like to take the day off.

And with that bit of banter out of the way, it’s back to racing.

The Chinese team’s success so far has been all the more extraordinary for bouncing back from a partially disconnected mast track, which attaches the mainsail to the mast, a week ago.

The Dongfeng crew dropped back to last place while being repaired, but within 48 hours had picked off the rest of the six-strong fleet, one-by-one, to claim the lead.

No Sleep Until Auckland In Leg 4 Of The Volvo Ocean Race 2

(Photo by Anna-Lena Elled / Team SCA)

“It could be a total restart, but I am really hoping that if it is, it’s between the current top three,” says Caudrelier. “The other boats are now quite a long way back, but anything could happen still.”

“I expect local winds and currents could decide our fate towards the end and it is very hard to imagine anything other than a very, very close finish,” says Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing Skipper Ian Walker. "Until then, we continue to work on our speed and try to get ever closer to Dongfeng.”

Walker's team were just one point behind Dongfeng Race Team in the overall standings after three legs of nine. In all, the race will cover 38,739nm, visiting 11 ports and every continent, finishing in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27.