The Frenchman, who led his team’s incredible campaign in 2014-15, capturing the hearts of sailing fans not just in the their native China, but beyond, couldn’t be happier to be lining up in the 2017-18 fleet.
“It’s great news that we’re back,” he smiles. “I feel very lucky to be skipper of this fantastic team, so thank you Dongfeng. Now we’re going to get down to work, and prepare for the race.”
The surprise package of last edition, Caudrelier and co defied the odds to grab a place on the podium – and, in truth, they could have done even better than their third spot, having led for much of the race’s early stages.
It was a campaign which saw Charles and his team – featuring four Chinese rookies – consistently exceed expectations.
Now, he says, the aim is different. Make no mistake: Dongfeng Race Team can win the trophy in 2017-18.
"The goal of the next campaign, for sure, is to do even better,” he explains. “We’re going to work and push hard to try and win the race, and be the best.
“Last time, we didn’t know each other too well before the race, and it took a long time to discover. Now, we’re going straight to the performance and working on preparing the race. It’s important as we can start very early with the same team, to give us the best chance.”
And the return of the Chinese sponsor for a second consecutive edition is a huge ‘proof of confidence’, according to the French skipper.
“The trust of Dongfeng is very important to me,” he continues. “I think it’s key to the success of the project. Our sponsor trusts us, we trust our sponsor, and we know that they will follow us until the end.
“We’re lucky as were not starting a project from scratch – instead, the story continues. I have everything in my hands to prepare in the best conditions. I have time, funding, and the same guys – a team already used to working together, and trusting each other.”
It’s that team spirit and work ethic which saw Dongfeng Race Team through a rollercoaster ride of a 2014-15 edition.
From the ecstatic high of winning into China on Leg 3, to the crushing low of losing their mast just miles from Cape Horn on Leg 5 – a disaster which saw them retire from the leg, and cost them heavily in the battle with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing – the Chinese-backed team experienced the full Volvo Ocean Race spectrum of emotions.
“The Dongfeng spirit was one of the key factors for success in the last campaign,” admits Charles. “We were like a big family - the Chinese guys were like my kids and along with Pascal I was a little bit like their father!
“That’s what this race is all about – it’s human, it’s very important to build a good team spirit and I think we managed to do it. The win into China was a fantastic moment, not only for Dongfeng, but also for the team."
“It was a really emotional time, and I’m still very proud of the Chinese guys that we were able to achieve that.”
One of the main objectives of the original Dongfeng project was to leave a lasting ocean racing legacy in China, and as they look to continue to build on the incredible impact made in 2014-15 with a second campaign, it’s easy to forget the size of the task that Caudrelier and his crew faced as they prepared for the race in the spring of 2014.
“When we arrived six months before the race and met the Chinese guys, none of them had raced, or spent a night, offshore,” he says.
“They had no experience, and I was thinking, in six months we have to be ready for the toughest offshore race in the world.
“But they had a lot of energy, and worked hard. They were very young. When I was 21, I already had offshore experience, and this race still really frightened me. I was afraid they’d give up. But they never did – they kept asking to come back, and fighting until the end.”
He smiles: “Now, we start again, with the same guys. I have no doubt that we can take them to the top level of sailing in the next few years.”
So, looking to the future, what does Charles think to the changes announced by the Race ahead of the 2017-18 edition?
“There have been some big calls, and big changes,” he says. “The race is going back to the Southern Ocean which is great news not only for the media but also for the sailors. It will be harder, and colder, but also faster – a real battle on the water.”
The rule change aimed at bringing more female sailors into the race is also ‘good news’, he comments.
“I like the Volvo Ocean Race for the human side – this is a new element which is very interesting and I think will bring positive things on board.
“It’s part of the sport, we have to go and find the best girls, and that’s a process I’ve already started now.”
This will be Caudrelier’s third Volvo Ocean Race campaign. With one trophy win (onboard Groupama in 2011-12) under his belt, and his first campaign as a skipper a resounding success, what keeps bringing Charles back to this race?
“We are back to continue the beautiful story we started in 2014, to showcase offshore sailing in China, and to share another strong human adventure.”
He continues: “It’s a great opportunity for us to realise our dream – to win this race.”