SANYA, China — Dongfeng Race Team, led by French skipper Charles Caudrelier, claimed a slice of Volvo Ocean Race history Tuesday when it became the Chinese entry to win a leg of offshore sailing's most prestigious event.
After more than 23 days sailing from Abu Dhabi, Dongfeng arrived at its home port of Sanya, Hainan Island, just after daybreak to claim the 4,670-nautical mile third stage.
Two teams from China have previously taken part in the 41-year-old round-the-world race, but neither seriously challenged in the 2008-09 and 2011-12 editions.
Dongfeng has shown itself to be a real contender from the outset of the 12th edition, finishing as narrow runners-up in the opening two legs following the race start on Oct. 4.
The win in Sanya, with over 45 nautical miles to spare from the rest of the fleet, leaves Caudrelier's eight-strong crew top of the overall leaderboard on five points with six legs still to complete.
Dongfeng began the leg in the joint lead with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Dutch boat Team Brunel.
Abu Dhabi finished second and U.S.-based Team Alvimedica was third.
The Volvo Ocean Race , covering 38,739 nautical miles, visits 11 ports and every continent before its scheduled conclusion on June 27 in Gothenburg, Sweden.
This third leg was among the toughest — crossing the Arabian Gulf before entering the busy shipping lanes of the Bay of Bengal and the Malacca Strait, and concluding through the South China Sea.
"It's the most stressful leg I've ever done in my life," a relieved Caudrelier told reporters, minutes after crossing the line. "But the result is fantastic!"
Team Alvimedica, based in Newport, Rhode Island, and sponsored by a Turkish company, earned its first podium finish.
"It feels good to just be off the boat and in China," said skipper Charlie Enright of Bristol, Rhode Island. "It's awesome. It's the culmination of a lot of hard work and a lot of things cooking at the right time."
Enright said the sailing had been close the last several days through the Strait of Malacca and then along the coast of Vietnam. He called the conditions "pretty volatile" as the fleet had to dodge commercial shipping and fishing boats as well as dealing with changing weather.
"It was pretty sketchy sailing," he said.
Enright, a fan of the New England Patriots, had a question for reporters.
"Did the Patriots really cheat?" he asked, referring to the Patriots being investigated for using under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game.
Enright said the crew receives regular updates about American football while on the high seas, and plans to watch Sunday's Super Bowl at a sports bar.
The next leg, a 5,624 nautical mile journey to Auckland, New Zealand, leaves Sanya on Feb. 8.