It is 36 days to the start of the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 and Dongfeng Race Team have officially recruited two more Chinese sailors, the Chinese Yachting Association’s former Finn sailor, Kong Chencheng (Kong) and Liu Xue (Black). Both sailors had been selected previously, but for different reasons had pulled out of the programme. But they have shown determination and resilience in returning and have been welcomed by the Skipper Charles Caudrelier with open arms. This means there are now a total of six Chinese sailors in Dongfeng Race Team, who will rotate onboard during the race. There will be three Chinese sailors onboard on the start line in Alicante.
Participating in the Volvo Ocean Race is not something you choose to do lightly. You have to want it, like really, really want it. Both Kong and Black were selected from the first and second batch of selection trials, both had clear talent and both wanted to be a part of Dongfeng Race Team.
Then the training started. And it wasn’t quite how they imagined.
Liu Xue, also known as ‘little black’ to his friends, is from Qingdao. Originally with China Team, he was selected without hesitation by Dongfeng Race Team after the first selection trials in Sanya earlier this year. Incredibly well liked amongst his teammates and mentors, he was selected by Charles to complete an offshore training program in the Pacific Ocean back in March. This was the first real offshore test for the new Chinese recruits. 'During the first offshore training in the Pacific, it was us only on the sea without any competitors, I got a bit confused and was unsure after the first few days – there were no competitors and suddenly I couldn’t figure out what the objective or goal was for this training.To be honest I found it boring!' he admits. 'But then I realised that I missed the team, missed my teammates, missed this family, and missed all the difficulties we went through together. Also the Volvo Ocean Race is a really rare opportunity, and I realised whilst back in China alone, that I want to participate in this race. A Volvo Ocean Race sailor should be a team player, determined in mind with a strong body, experienced, know the boat, confront any problem that might occurred instead of escaping or turning away. This is the person I want to become.' Liu Xue took a step back from training with the team in March but has since felt he belonged with the team and after dropping an email initially to one of the French crew and then to Team Director, Bruno Dubois asking if he could return – he has been offered a place in the final race squad.
'There is no question that missing several months of training is a real handicap for Black,' explains Dubois. 'But this young man has incredible talent and I can already see he is catching up. Couple his talent with his new-found determination and I know we have a future Volvo Ocean Race sailor in the making.'
Liu Xue has described representing Dongfeng Race Team and China ‘an honor’.
Next we have Kong Chencheng who came from the China Yachting Association’s national Olympic squad programme. A superb strong athlete, Kong is the only sailor to have survived the second batch of selection trials back in February. 'Kong did the Atlantic crossing with the team and, like Black, he left straight after that experience,' explains Bruno. 'It is difficult for Kong as he comes from sailing his Finn and representing China and the China Yachting Association (CYA) in major sailing events – this is a long way from ocean sailing. He is a fantastic sailor and an amazing athlete, and with more training he will become a powerful offshore sailor.'
Kong explains that crossing the Atlantic was a moment of harsh realisation as to what could lie ahead should he be accepted into the final race squad. 'The transatlantic voyage is the first ever offshore experience in my life. I didn’t know what to expect and what would happen when I stepped on the boat and said good-bye to the shore crew. We have a saying in Chinese, which I think it’s perfect for me to describe that experience – ‘Suffering while enjoying’. It was difficult for me to catch up the pattern at the beginning, and I felt to live is no better than to die at some point – I felt seasick; the waves was huge and I heard them literally yelling at each other when working on the deck when I was sleeping on the ‘bed’ – we were in the middle of the ocean and I was worried what if something bad really happened, but then I realised they were just yelling and shouting because they couldn’t hear each other; work for four hours, then four hours break, then work again. I’ve never done it in my life before and I even fell asleep when I was standing/working on the deck. But all in all, it was a tough but great experience, I just hope I can evolve and learn because I want to do this.'
He then goes on to explain the importance of sailing in his life, 'I can’t imagine my life without sea – there are 365 days per year, and I spend around 300 days on the sea. Yes, I admit that when you are doing something repeatedly every single day, you’ll start to hate it at some point. But when someone ask you to leave, you’ll realise it’s impossible to do so. It’s part of my life, it’s in my blood.'
Kong has admitted to feeling ‘proud and honoured’ to be representing China. 'I am excited to be a part of the team that are making history.'
Both Black and Kong have a fair way to go before they will be ready to do a Volvo Ocean Race leg and with the delivery to Alicante less than 24 hours away the clock is ticking. 'If they continue to progress then myself and Charles would love to see them sail a leg, at least, of the Volvo Ocean Race. They need to stay with us if they want to be offshore sailors in the future and sail as much as possible on the Volvo Ocean 65. They also need to develop their technical skills by working with the shore team and we definitely want them to remain part of our team throughout the campaign now.' Volvo Ocean Race Dongfeng Race Team website