Chinese leaders pick through man-made obstacles

Team Dongfeng from China (left)compete during the in port race of the Volvo Ocean Race in Table Bay in Cape Town, South Africa on November 15, 2014 (AFP Photo/Gianluigi Guercia)

Alicante (Spain) (AFP) - Leaders Dongfeng Race Team and the rest of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet were carefully picking their way through the Bay of Bengal on Tuesday in Leg 3 of the nine-month marathon offshore race.

Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier (France) protected a narrow 30-nautical mile (nm) advantage over closest rivals Team Brunel (Netherlands) with three other boats within 5nm of them (0940 GMT).

For all, however, it has been a case of very watchful progress because of the pollution in the Bay as they headed towards another hazardous stretch of water, the Malacca Strait, that separates the Indonesian island of Sumatra and Malaysia and is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Team Brunel skipper Bouwe Bekking wrote in a blog: “There was so much plastic in the water that I started counting in several intervals of 10 minutes for a duration of four hours, the amount of plastic I could see floating by.

“A scary result was the outcome. Every 37 seconds on average I saw a piece of rubbish floating by, either big or small. I am not a scientist or researcher, but the total weight of this trash floating around in this part of the world must be enormous.”

Already crews have had to release fishing nets and all sorts of debris from under their boats on their passage through the 4,670nm stage from Abu Dhabi to Sanya, Hainan Island, on the southern-most tip of China.

Dongfeng, Team Brunel and Abu Dhabi Ocean were locked at the top of the overall leaderboard on four points apiece after two of the 11 legs of the race, which started in Alicante, Spain, on October 4 last year and is scheduled to finish in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27.

Caudrelier, a member of the victorious Groupama crew in the previous edition in 2011-12, would dearly love victory in this stage, which is expected to be completed around January 25-26 after three weeks of racing depending on weather conditions. They have just under 2,500nm to sail before then.

None of the three Chinese-backed boats to have taken part in the 41-year-old event – formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race – has won a leg and victory in Sanya would be the ideal place to break that duck. It would also put Dongfeng Race Team narrowly ahead in the overall standings.

“Onboard we are focused but tired from the constant battle of nerves. Nothing is ever for keeps on this leg, we need to fighting for another 15 days to get our boat home,” said Caudrelier, 40.

The Volvo Ocean Race is held every three years and is generally accepted as offshore sailing’s toughest and most prestigious event. This is the 12th edition.

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.