ALICANTE, Spain (Reuters) - Chinese boat Dongfeng Race Team closed to within 500 miles of third leg victory in the Volvo Ocean Race on Saturday and an important first for their country in the round-the-world challenge.
No Chinese team has won a stage in the 41-year history of the race but Dongfeng were on course to do so with 477 nautical miles (nm) remaining (0640 GMT).
The team, skippered by Frenchman Charles Caudrelier, have led the 4,670 mile stage almost from the start in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 3.
Barring a major problem sailing through the South China Sea to the final destination in the leg, Sanya on the southernmost tip of China, they should arrive late on Monday or early on Tuesday next week (Jan 26-27).
However, Caudrelier was taking nothing for granted with the team heading towards the Vietnam coast before sailing into Chinese waters.
"Above all, the big risk along the coast will be a collision with debris in the water – lots of dead trees and debris coming from the forests covering this area and rivers that flow in to the sea," the 40-year-old wrote in a blog from his boat.
"And then there are fishermen, many of them in their badly lit boats. Sometimes it can be a real slalom between the boats and their nets.
"So onboard Dongfeng, we must stay concentrated … the finish line is still a long way away."
Victory would give them the overall race lead on five points although there is still a long way to go to become the 12th winner of an event that began life as the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973.
The race covers 38,790 nautical miles in total and is staged over nine legs, visiting 11 ports and every continent. It started in Alicante, Spain, on Oct. 4 last year and ends in Gothenburg, Sweden, on June 27.
Dongfeng held the joint lead after two legs with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Brunel (Netherlands), all on four points.
Abu Dhabi, led by Britain’s twice-Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker, were second on leg three, 57.2nm behind Dongfeng at 0640 GMT on Saturday, with Brunel 12.6nm further adrift in fourth behind Turkish/American entry, Team Alvimedica.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin)