Chinese pre-event outsiders Dongfeng Race Team continued to defy the odds on Thursday as they took a slim lead in the third leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.
Only three boats from China have ever contested offshore sailingâ€™s toughest and most prestigious event and none have won a single leg in its 41-year history.
However, a pair of closely-fought second places in the opening two legs has left the crew skippered by Frenchman, Charles Caudrelier, sitting joint top of the standings with Team Brunel (Netherlands) and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing on four points.
Victory in leg three would be the ideal time for Dongfeng to break the Chinese duck â€“ the destination of the 4,670 nautical mile (nm) third stage from Abu Dhabi is their home port of Sanya, the southernmost point of China.
There is still a long way to go, however. The boats have travelled just under 1,000nm after five days of sailing and ahead of them in the next few days lies the perilous Mallaca Strait, a packed shipping lane between the Indonesian island of Sumatra and Malaysia.
Already man-made hazards have slowed the progress of the boats towards their expected arrival in Sanya between January 24 and January 28 depending on weather conditions.
Several boats have reported needing to stop on repeated occasions to clear debris from their keels and one, Team Brunel, had to send a swimmer under the hull to free a snake which was wrapped around a sail drive.
The overall race is perfectly poised with the two boats locked at the top of the overall rankings with Dongfeng – Team Brunel and Abu Dhabi – also their closest rivals in this leg.
Dongfeng led Team Brunel, winners of the second leg, by just 8.5nm on Thursday (0940 GMT) with Abu Dhabi a further 12nm adrift.
The seven-strong fleet has been depleted by one boat, Team Vestas Wind (Denmark), which was badly damaged after it ran into a reef in the Indian Ocean on November 29 during the second leg.
It was retrieved just before Christmas and is currently being shipped between Malaysia and Italy where it will be repaired. Backers intend to return the boat to the race for the final two legs from June.
The nine-month Volvo Ocean Race, held every three years, visits 11 countries in all, every continent and takes nine months to complete. It will finish in Gothenburg on June 27.
Latest standings after Leg 2: 1 Team Brunel (Netherlands) 4 pts, 2 Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 4, 3 Dongfeng Race Team (China) 4, 4 Team Alvimedica (Turkey/U.S.) 9, 5 MAPFRE (Spain) 11, 6 Team Vestas Wind (Denmark) 12, 7 Team SCA (Sweden) 12.