"It's good to be back!"

Text by Jonno Turner
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"It's good to be back!" Text by Jonno Turner
 
It's been a long time coming – but over 18 months after the end of the 2014-15 edition, Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charles Caudrelier is finally behind the wheel of his Volvo Ocean 65 once again.

The refitted boat, which has been upgraded with over one million euros worth of new gear from electronics to sails and deck gear, was handed back to the Dongfeng crew a fortnight ago, meaning that Caudrelier's squad are once again free to sail it to their hearts' content.

"It's good to be back together, to sail and to have a new boat ready to go," explains the French skipper. "The Boatyard did a good job and the boat is ready to go for racing so we just have to train.

"We started sailing two weeks ago and did some calibration work. We also had our new sails this week and we're now ready to go for real training – it's a good place here for the training too. We're very happy!"

Of course, it's not Caudrelier's first race – he won the trophy onboard Groupama in 2011-12, and then skippered for the first time in 2014-15 – and with a couple of laps of the planet under his belt, he's setting his sights high next edition.

He admits that after his crew's shock performance in 2014-15, where they pushed eventual winners Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing all the way, before breaking their mast just hours away from Cape Horn and having to abandon Leg 5, the potential of – and the pressure on – the Chinese boat has increased.

"There is a big difference all round compared to last time," he says. "We had some new Chinese sailors last year who had never even sailed offshore before and didn’t know where they were going. We now have three Chinese guys who have one Volvo Ocean Race experience which is great.

"We're really lucky because Dongfeng is doing everything to help us." - Charles Caudrelier

"Even for our sponsors, last race they didn’t know anything about the sailing world, and they didn’t know how it worked. Now we can see that they know where they are going and what is really important to the performance of the campaign. We're really lucky because Dongfeng is doing everything to help us."

He continues: "We have the same goal today to try to win this race, and they have let us manage our programme and team as we want. When it is about performance they don't want to compromise. The whole team will be better this race because we have all the experience and all share the same goal. We all trust each other and that will make the team even stronger."

In the near future, Caudrelier will reveal his squad selection – but for now, he's just enjoying the sailing in Lisbon, before heading back to France to prepare for another lap around the world.

"We stay until the 1st March in Portugal and then we go offshore to deliver the boat back to Lorient," he adds. "We'll be based there until the start of the race for training."