ALICANTE, Spain, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Dongfeng Race Team edged closer to a first for China in the 41-year-old Volvo Ocean Race on Saturday as they clung on to a paper-thin advantage in the third leg towards their home port of Sanya.
Three teams from China have entered the event, generally rated offshore sailing’s toughest and most prestigious round-the-world race, but none have yet won a leg.
For Dongfeng, skippered by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier, to break that duck sailing into Sanya on the southernmost tip of China would be a dream result.
It would also leave them as outright leaders after three of the nine legs of the race.
At 1240 GMT on Saturday, they led by just 6.3 nautical miles (nm) from Dutch challengers, Team Brunel. The pair are already locked on four points apiece, along with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, at the head of the standings after two legs.
The 4,670nm stage from Abu Dhabi to China is one of the most hazardous in the nine-month, 38,739nm race, which is scheduled to finish in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27.
The fleet has sailed around 1,250nm of the leg so far and is expected to arrive in Sanya in about a fortnight, depending on sea and weather conditions.
The boats will sail in the next few days through the Malacca Strait, which divides the Indonesian island of Sumatra from Malaysia. It narrows to 1.5nm at one point and is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
The fleet will need to avoid slow-moving or anchored small fishing boats and considerable man-made debris.
The seven-strong fleet was already reduced by one for this and subsequent legs when Danish boat Team Vestas Wind was grounded on a reef in the Indian Ocean midway through stage two from Cape Town to Abu Dhabi on Nov. 29.
The boat was badly damaged and will be rebuilt with a return planned for the final two legs of the race from the beginning of June.
Latest standings after Leg 2:
1 Team Brunel (Netherlands) 4 pts
2 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 4
3 Dongfeng Race Team (China) 4
4 Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.) 9
5 MAPFRE (Spain) 11
6 Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) 12
7 Team SCA (Sweden) 12. (Editing by Pritha Sarkar)