Understanding determination

Dongfeng Race Team skipper Charles Caudrelier’s never-give-up attitude fuels the long journey ahead.

After days sailing through rough seas, it can be easy to grow tired and weak. But, he’s proud to know first-hand how far a lot of determination, in any circumstance, can go.

They survived the Southern Ocean, the most treacherous leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, and celebrated as they rounded Cape Horn. It’s a milestone for all sailors. From there, the air only gets warmer and the sea swell begins to level out. As they raced up the Uruguayan coast, they were leading the fleet by a narrow margin, and the finish line was with grasp—only 677 nautical miles to go. Then everything changed.

"We were sailing upwind—it was not very windy—and the sea state was pretty good. Suddenly you hear a big crack,” said Charles Caudrelier, a crew member onboard the Groupama boat during the 2011-12 edition. “The first few seconds you look everywhere and understand very quickly that the mast is broken.”

CHARLES CAUDRELIER - Skipper, Dongfeng Race Team

Never give up. That’s what I have to keep in my mind and what I want to teach to the guys on my team. Don’t lose face after the first leg if we might not be the best or if we are disappointed by the result. We can progress.

Groupama’s rig snapped about 10 meters above the deck as they were racing toward the finish of leg 5 from New Zealand to Brazil. The other 21 meters of mast, along with sails, came crashing down onto the deck, spilling into the ocean. The boat stopped.

“What was strange was you have no sound,” Caudrelier said. “For a few minutes you think the race is maybe finished or we are going to lose.”

After ensuring all crew were safe, a recovery operation began to retrieve all parts from the water.

The team had two options: retire from the leg and forfeit all points while they waited for a replacement mast; or attempt to sail unde ury rig—a makeshift mast and sail that would hopefully allow them to resume racing…at a much slower pace.

The decision was easy. 

A week later, the determined crew crossed the line in Itajaí, Brazil, finishing in 3rd place and collecting 20 points. "At the time, all our focus was on winning the race and when the mast broke we had to change our strategy pretty quick," Groupama skipper Franck Cammas admitted at the finish. “It is true that it is a big disappointment, but I think we can be really proud of what we have accomplished. This type of thing makes you stronger if you can get through it. 

“We are not heroes, I hope we are just good sailors,” Cammas said.

Groupama’s replacement mast arrived to Brazil, and the team successfully completed the remaining four legs of the race. With all points tallied as they crossed the final line, Groupama was declared winner of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race. Each and every point proved valuable.

Caudrelier recognized the challenge to sail under jury rig as an adventure he was glad to be part of. Success isn’t rewarding if it is easy.

Now, as skipper of the Dongfeng Race Team for the 2014-15 race, he carries the same determination and attitude. His half Chinese, half international crew includes several who are sailing around the world for the first time.

 “Never give up,” Caudrelier says. “That’s what I have to keep in my mind and what I want to teach to the guys on my team. Don’t lose face after the first leg if we might not be the best or if we are disappointed by the result. We can progress.”

More from race central

Volvo Ocean Race Edition

Our tribute to the race—with unique design elements made to embody the soul of human challenge.

Follow the live race

View the map, see where they are, how they’re faring, and what’s coming next.