Dongfeng Race Team became the first team from China to win a leg in offshore sailing's Volvo Ocean Race early yesterday.
The victory in the third stage from Abu Dhabi to its home port of Sanya on Hainan Island also puts Dongfeng top of the overall standings with six legs still to go.
Dongfeng has proved itself serious challenger from the outset of the 2014-15 race and had already finished narrow runner-up in the first two legs following the race start on October 4.
The crew, skippered by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier, crossed the Sanya finish line after nearly 24 days at sea on the 4,670-nautical mile voyage from Abu Dhabi to Sanya with an advantage of just over 45nm from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
"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!"
The route took the fleet through the Gulf, the Bay of Bengal, the Malacca Strait and finally, the South China Sea, negotiating some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world along the way.
The crew included five French, two Chinese and one Australian-born sailor.
"We had to arrive first here, it was very important for me, for the project," said a jubilant Caudrelier. "We're so proud. One year ago we were here just discovering the Chinese rookies, they didn't know anything about this kind of boat, and now they've won a leg."
"I have made the best decision of my life to join this team," said 21-year-old Chinese crewmember Liu Xue following the victory. "I have learnt so much. This leg, and this moment I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life," added the event's youngest sailor.
The event, which is held every three years and visits 11 ports in all and every continent, concludes in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27 and will have covered 38,739nm.
Abu Dhabi finished second and US-based Team Alvimedica was third.
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.
Original title by Shanghai Daily:China's Dongfeng sails into history