China hopes hang by thread as Volvo Ocean Race pack closes

SANYA, China (AP) Dongfeng Race Team’s hopes of becoming the first Chinese entry to win a leg in the Volvo Ocean Race were hanging by a thread Sunday.

The team has been leading through most of the 4,760-nautical mile third leg, from Abu Dhabi to its home port of Sanya, in the nine-month round-the-world race that is generally considered the sport’s toughest offshore challenge.

”This has been the most physically demanding part of the leg, I’m a bit stressed,” Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier, 40, said in a message from the boat.

Over the past 24 hours, the crew has seen an advantage, which at one stage was more than 100 nautical miles, whittled away to just 9.6 nautical miles as the boats sailed away from the Vietnam coast in the South China Sea.

Leading the pursuit was leg one winner Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing with three other boats – Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.), MAPFRE (Spain) and second stage victors Team Brunel (Netherlands) – no more than 16 nautical miles further adrift.

The all-women’s crew of Team SCA was 41.1 nautical miles behind the main pack but catching them fast in stronger winds.

The leaders have just under 350 nautical miles still to sail to Sanya in Hainan Island, on the southernmost point of China.

They are expected to end the latest stage, which started in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 3 and has taken them through the Gulf, the Bay of Bengal, the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea, late on Monday night.

Victory for Dongfeng would not only break China’s duck in the 41-year-old event, which started life as the Whitbread Round the World Race, but put the team top of the overall standings after three of nine legs.

Three Chinese teams have entered the race, which is held every three years, including Dongfeng in the current 12th edition.

The race started in Alicante, Spain, on Oct. 4 and is scheduled to conclude in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27 after visiting 11 ports and every continent.