The Volvo Ocean Race has arrived at its closest finish in the race’s long and storied history. After starting the final ‘sprint’ leg with three teams tied on points, one expected a thrilling three-way match race to the finish, possibly coming down to the wire in The Hague, the one-design Volvo 65s having provided unbelievably close racing all the way around the world. The anticipated match race wasn’t to be however, instead replaced by one of the most remarkable ‘flyers’ of all time, where one boat broke decisively from her rivals in a high-risk move, only to pull off an improbable win right at the finish. In a twist at the end of a race that has been full of them, Dongfeng has won the Volvo Ocean Race in their second attempt. French skipper Charles Caudrelier can now add this victory to his win six years earlier with Groupama.
Since departing Gothenburg, Sweden, on Thursday and sailing a circuitous 970-mile course that included a mark right off Aarhus, Demnark, the fleet had endured two days of intense, close-quarters sailing before they were finally rumbling down the coast of western Denmark toward the finish line in The Hague, Netherlands. Conventional wisdom would have been to take the offshore route, and to stay with rivals MAPFRE and Team Brunel, but on Saturday night Dongfeng broke away from the fleet to head inshore along the Danish coast. Separated from her rivals by a large restricted area/traffic separation scheme, the gamble had been made; there was no way to back out and no way for her rivals to cover. It was a risky move and a true ‘hero or zero’ scenario; pull it off and you look brilliant, park it up on the beach and you’re a nobody.
Early on, Dongfeng and the two teams that followed took a blood bath in the rankings, shedding miles at a frenetic pace to fall back to the bottom three positions. As the race entered its closing stages, it began to look more and more as if Dongfeng had chosen the wrong option. With 115 miles to the finish, Dongfeng was a full 50 miles behind the race leaders, though in very different water and breeze. As the leaders slowed offshore and had to make a 90° turn to port to approach the finish, Dongfeng came charging in with better breeze, pointing right at the mark. When the three boats next met, coming from very different directions, it was MAPFRE and Brunel jibing off Dongfeng’s stern to head to the line. The gamble had worked and Dongfeng pulled off a shocking victory in the closest and most exciting finish in the history of the race.
Saturday’s in-port race will mark the official conclusion of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race. With Turn the Tide on Plastic and Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag tied on points at 32, the inshore standings will act as the tiebreaker to decide who ends up in sixth vs. seventh overall. Currently, Scallywag holds a lead, but not an insurmountable one.