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Dongfeng’s Golden French Connection

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Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charles Caudrelier (FRA) has been trying to explain the ‘French factor’ that has helped put his crew top of the Volvo Ocean Race leaderboard after three legs – and it seems to come down to pure passion.

Caudrelier has chosen four of his countrymen in his race crew squad and their expertise has gone a long way in securing Dongfeng’s current one-point advantage as well as ensuring that the six Chinese rookies in the line-up are properly supported.

Few thought pre-Race that the China-backed boat would be ahead of the fleet at this stage and to some extent, their 40-year-old skipper shared that feeling way back in October in Alicante.


So their success, including Leg 3 victory from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, has taken him by surprise but he’s by no means getting carried away just yet with the challenging Leg 4 from Sanya to Auckland kicking off on Sunday.

The race itself does not conclude until June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden after nine months on the open sea.
“Remember Telefónica,” he told www.volvooceanrace.com, referring to the Spanish team that won the three opening legs in the 2011-12 edition but ended up fourth overall.

“It’s not a success yet – we have to wait a few legs – but it’s a good start for sure.”

However, in compatriots Pascal Bidégorry (navigator), Kevin Escoffier (bowman) plus fellow French crew members Eric Peron and Thomas Rouxel, he knows he has battle-hardened offshore sailors who will not relinquish their lead easily.

So what is it that makes these Frenchmen so special? Well, according to Caudrelier, a school of hard knocks in the sport at an early age is certainly a great grounding, not to mention a string of super-tough races in France to take on.

But there’s more to it than that which Caudrelier believes could give the ‘Frenchies’ an advantage over their rivals.
Most of them, he points out, have taken up the sport in France at a time when passion for sailing, rather than money, was the only driving force.

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“I don’t know whether I’m wrong or right, but the way I’m feeling, (for) the Anglo-Saxons – some guys – it’s really a job although I’m not saying there’s not passion on the other boats,” he said.

“In France, for sure it became a job but for a few years before when we were doing it, it was a passion. We were doing it because we liked it and we still like it. This is maybe a different approach.

“We’re not doing it for the money we earn, we’re really doing it because we want to do it.”

He continued: “When I started it was not a real job for anybody. We were not earning money when we were sailing, we were just eating, and all the money was going on the boat.

“I’m the first generation, maybe, to really do it as a job. The generation before me, the guys who inspired me like Michel Desjoyeaux, they were sailing for nothing. It was just passion.

“We have some guys in France who don’t know how to do anything else. They are 50-60 years old and they still want to continue to do the Vendée Globe and all these races, which are really tough. They really love their job.

“I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that what sailing is in France is unique to the world. Different kind of boat, different kind of race sponsors. Racing in France is fantastic, so much racing – maybe too much.

“I have six French guys on my boat (counting himself and Onboard Reporter Yann Riou) – I could find 60 of them. I am not sure I could find 60 guys with a very strong sailing background in every country.

“We are representing France for sure. And they are proud of what we are doing.”

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*Images supplied by Volvo Ocean Race - Credits Ainhoa Sanchez, Charlie Shoemaker, Sam Greenfield, Rick Tomilson, Maria Muina

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