It’s been a harrowing journey but after eight months and 52,000 miles, the 2017/18 Volvo Ocean Race came to a dramatic conclusion on Sunday with the Dongfeng Race Team leading a field of determined crews to the finale in the closest finish in the race’s 45-year history.

The Dongfeng Race Team blasting south through Leg 11, from Gothenburg to The Hague. Photo: Courtesy of Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo Ocean Race is held every three years, a pinnacle sailing event. This year, it began in Alicante Spain on Oct. 22, the start of 11 legs around the world with ports including Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guagzhou, Aukland, Itajai, Newport, RI, Cardiff, Gothenburg, and the tight finish at The Hague.

Dongfeng, the first ever boat to fly under the Chinese flag, hadn’t won a single leg of the race, but were a model of consistency since October. Skipper Charles Caudrelier went into the final 970-mile leg from Gothenburg, Sweden to The Hague in a three-way tie. The top finisher between Dongfeng, MAPFRE, and Team Brunel would take this year’s title.

On Saturday evening, Caudrelier rolled the dice on a coastal route. With 100 miles left, all three crews were still too close to call. Dongfeng finished the leg in 15:22:32, 16 minutes ahead of Team Azko Nobel.

The Dongfeng crew on a particularly grueling Leg 10, from Cardiff to Gothenburg. Kevin Escoffier at the helm. Photo: Courtesy of Martin Keruzore.

“We were not in such a good position, but we trusted our choice and we pushed,” Caudrelier said, “The others didn’t follow us, but we believed and we won.”

MAPFRE finished one minute behind Azko Nobel to take third in the final leg and second on the overall points leaderboard. Team Brunel finished third on the overall leaderboard.

It proved to be a gut-wrenching race, especially for Team Sun Kai/Scallywag. On March 26, crew member, John Fisher of Britain was swept overboard in the gale force conditions some 1,400-miles west of Cape Horn, Africa. On March 27, Volvo Ocean Race President, Richard Brisius gave this update on Fisher:

“This morning I am extremely sad to inform you that one of our sailors, John Fisher, from Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, is now presumed to have been lost at sea.

“This is heart-breaking for all of us. As sailors and race organizers, losing a crew member at sea is a tragedy we don’t ever want to contemplate. We are devastated and our thoughts are with John’s family, friends and teammates.

“Yesterday, just after 1300 UTC, Race Control for the Volvo Ocean Race were informed of a man overboard situation by Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag.
We immediately coordinated with the team as well as the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, who have located a ship and diverted it towards the scene. But at current speeds it remains over a day away.

“With the rest of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet approximately 200 miles downwind, sending them back upwind to assist, against gale to storm force winds, was not a viable option.”

The finish was obviously emotional for Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag Skipper David Witt who said, “I have very mixed emotions right now. I’m incredibly proud of our team both on and off the water. We’re very tight and we have gone through a lot. But I’m also sad of course. I didn’t finish it with my best mate (John Fisher) who we started with. So very mixed emotions, but I’m glad we finished it.”

The loss of Fisher was not the only incident. On January 20, Vestas 11th Hour Racing collided with a Chinese fishing vessel. Nine fishermen were rescued from the water but sadly, the tenth lost his life. The Vestas crew was unharmed, and took part in the search and rescue with a damaged hull.

In this high profile race, several crews worked to bring awareness to the health of the oceans this year.

The conclusion marks one of the most memorable events in the long history of this global race. The Awards Night will be held in The Hague on Friday, June 30.

Volvo Ocean Race Leg 11 – Final Leaderboard:

1. Dongfeng Race Team: 3 days, 3 hours, 22 minutes, 32 seconds

2. Team AkzoNobel: 3 days, 3 hours, 38 minutes, 31 seconds

3. MAPFRE: 3 days, 3 hours, 39 minutes, 25 seconds

4. Team Brunel: 3 days, 3 hours, 45 minutes, 52 seconds

5. Turn the Tide on Plastic: 3 days, 3 hours, 56 minutes, 56 seconds

6. SHK / Scallywag: 3 days, 4 hours, 01 minutes, 32 seconds 

7. Vestas 11th Hour Racing: 3 days, 4 hours, 05 minutes, 36 seconds

More Sailing Content From ASN

Sailor Lost at Sea During Iconic Race Around the World

Sailing Team Brings Enviro Message to Global Race

Wisdom and Advice for Traveling Solo Around the World From Explorer Liz Clark