Dongfeng take slender lead in Volvo Ocean Race leg to Auckland

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Dongfent Race team have a tight lead in the Volvo Ocean Race.

China’s Dongfeng Race Team claimed a sliver-thin lead in the Volvo Ocean Race leg to Auckland, but the rest of the fleet are breathing down their necks.

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– INTERVIEW: ADOR’s Matt Knighton – A tale of courage and hardship 
– Conditions begin to take hold in leg 4 of Volvo Ocean Race 

The final outcome is still too close to call with under 1,400 nautical miles (nm) left to sail.

Towards the end of last week, Charles Caudrelier’s overall leaders had discounted their chances of victory in this stage from Sanya, on the southernmost tip of China, to Auckland.

They had started the leg through the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean as overall leaders after becoming the first Chinese-backed boat to win a stage

A breakage on their mast track, which connects the mast to the mainsail, had slowed the boat down while an on-the-move repair was made.

But a mid-Pacific area of changeable winds allowed Dongfeng to soar through the fleet from last place to first within 48 hours and by Monday morning, they had established a narrow advantage.

This was no time to rest on their laurels, however, with their final destination around five days’ sailing away and the entire six-strong fleet bunched to within 47nm from first to last.

Closest to Caudrelier’s crew at 0655 GMT on Monday in the 5,264-nm leg was Spanish entry, MAPFRE, just six miles behind, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in third, 2.8nm further adrift.

Despite the closeness of the competition, the French skipper was in a buoyant mood in a weekend message from the boat. “We’ve got our smile back over these past two days and our efforts have paid off,” he wrote.

“Our easterly position might work out well for us, but just one cloud can either launch you to the front or stop you totally for several hours.”

Abu Dhabi’s British skipper Ian Walker agreed with Caudrelier that all was still to play for.

“It’s turning into a fantastic race and, with light winds forecast for the end, it will surely be a nail-biter,” he wrote in his blog from the boat.

This is the fourth leg of nine in offshore sailing’s premier event, which is held every three years.

In all, the fleet will sail 38,739 nautical miles over nine months, visiting 11 ports and every continent before the race concludes in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27.

Dongfeng led the overall standings by one point after three legs from Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing with Team Brunel (Netherlands) in third, three points further behind.

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ADOR hunting down Brunel at halfway point of VOR Leg 4

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ADORs Luke Parkinson engages in some aerial acrobatics on one of Azzams halyards on Leg 4 to Auckland New Zealand.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing is among the front-runners challenging for the lead at the halfway point of Leg 4 of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The team left the Chinese port of Sanya 11 days ago, starting in second place in the overall standings, one point behind leader Dongfeng Race Team.

– INTERVIEW: ADOR reporter Matt Knighton

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Winds of over 25 knots sent Azzam tearing across the Pacific Ocean as the Azzam crew pushed to the limit to minimise the gains being made by Brunel. The relentless pace came at a cost with several minor equipment breakages requiring the crew to react fast with repairs to avoid losing precious miles to their rivals.

“Getting north is powerful but involves making a big short term loss on the grounds that something may play out in the future,” said skipper Ian Walker. “It is sometimes hard to commit to that unless you are absolutely sure or unless your main rivals all go with you.”

“They are in great shape, 115 miles north and slightly east of us,” Walker said. “My best guess is that they will end up about 100 miles ahead but there is a very wide Doldrums crossing ahead of us so hopefully the fleet will compress. Until then there are not many tactical options – we just have to sail fast.”

However, despite all their efforts, Team Brunel’s advance up the rankings was inexorable and a week into Leg 4 they overhauled ADOR to take the lead. The next 24 hours saw the Dutch extend their advantage to more than 80 miles but when they turned to match Azzam’s course the lead began to reduce.

The six-boat fleet is expected to complete the 5,264 nautical mile leg in less than two weeks with the leaders currently predicted to cross the finish line in Auckland on or around March 1.

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INTERVIEW: Matt Knighton - A tale of courage & hardship

Matt Jones 19/02/2015
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Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's on-board reporter Matt Knighton.

It’s been described as the toughest yet best job in journalism – being an on-board reporter (OBR) in the Volvo Ocean Race. Tossed around in 30 knots of wind, bashing through 20-foot high waves, out at sea for weeks at a time, all the while trying to keep a steady hand to take pictures, record video and annotate the days’ events.

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VIDEO: Sailing experience has shaped Matt Knighton for reporter role 

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To your average ‘landlubber’ it doesn’t sound that appealing but Volvo Ocean Race chiefs had over 2,000 applications for seven on-board reporter roles for the 2014/15 race. It’s no wonder race CEO Knut Frostad has described them as “war correspondents”, encapsulating all the excitement and action of the race.

Matt Knighton was a late addition to the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team and despite being barred from helping to sail, Azzam skipper Ian Walker has praised the work of the 30-year-old.

“People underestimate the role of the on-board reporter,” said Walker. “Can you imagine being on this boat 24 hours a day and not being able to sail it when sailing is your passion?”

Matt took some time out to speak to Sport360° about life on the ocean wave. 

How excited are you to be part of the Volvo Ocean Race experience?

I’ve been working for the past four years to be on a Volvo Ocean Race boat as an on-board reporter, so getting this opportunity is something I was really looking forward to and I’ve tried to put as much effort into this as possible. It’s been a great trip around the world so far.

What’s it like being out there?

It’s exactly the adventure that it looks like on camera and on screen, but it’s just magnified. You get the salt spray over your face, you’re sleep deprived and you’re eating really bad freeze dried food. But in the middle of it you’re trying to make really good media and win a race.

One of Matt Knighton's incredible images.

What’s it like being part of the team, but not actually being able to sail?

It was a little bit hard to get used to at first. But, I took the effort I would normally put into racing hard and put that into trying my best to take awesome pictures and video.

Overall it’s just a huge privilege to be in the team. I consider myself a media professional first and a sailor second, so around professional sailors like these guys, all I can do is the best I can with my reports and try to help them do their jobs as well as they can.

As an OBR, what aren’t you allowed to do?

I am not allowed to do any sailing whatsoever. I can’t touch any lines, can’t grind, I can’t touch the sails. I can’t affect the performance of the boat in any way whatsoever.

So, what can you do?

What I can do is my media job which involves putting between one and two minutes of video from the boat online each day, three to seven images and about 200 written words.I do that every 24 hours, go to bed for a few hours then wake up and do it all over again.

I can also help the guys out with cleaning the boat and preparing their nutritional needs, refilling the day bags, making sure they’re well fed and I also make lots of cups of coffee that the guys really appreciate all the time.

What’s your favourite part about being on board?

Probably just the time spent with the other guys. We’re all really close friends. Everyone’s got a pretty cool personality and we have a lot of laughs. It’s just a lot of fun experiencing something alongside these guys.

With not much room to operate, how do you get work done on board?

On the boat we have a media station. The communications platform on the Volvo 65 is second to none. The boat has five fixed cameras, which I control from one little screen at my station. There are several audio sources all around the boat so I can listen to a conversations without any of these guys knowing I’m there. I also have three SLR cameras with me.

How did the VOR gig come up?

I got an email originally saying I wasn’t going to be part of this race. Then things shifted at the last minute and I was asked if I was still interested. Within a week I was flying to Portugal to try out for Abu Dhabi, so things turned around really quickly.

What did the process for joining the team entail?

I went through the process with Volvo, sending in my resume. I’d been in touch with their OBR director and then the director of communications conducted an interview with me and passed me onto Ian. Before I knew it I was interviewing with Ian and that was it, he said he’d give me a try.

Living life on the edge.

What’s your sailing background?

I live in Chicago and have raced big boats on the Great Lakes for several years. I also do some ocean racing in San Diego. A few years ago I started doing media for match racing teams. I don’t match race myself but that was another stepping stone towards the VOR with the World Match Racing Tour.

And your media experience?

I’ve been working for the past eight years in documentary film-making, which includes directing the 2013 documentary ‘Black Hawk Down: Return to Mogadishu’, shot in the Somalian war zone. I also did some broadcast work in Chicago.

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