I am intrigued by the Dongfeng sailing team in the Volvo Ocean Race. They are now 70 miles ahead of their next competitor and at the top of the leaderboard for the race. All other participants did an extensive selection program to bring together the best nine sailors in the world, each outperforming in a certain area (trimming, steering, navigating). The Dutch Brunel boat even decided not to select a top performer at the last Olympics (okay, fourth place, but still) and work with a mental coach. They used all the ‘scientific’ theories around high performance teams and put it into practice. They won the race to Abu Dhabi but the Dutch skipper confessed they had been a little lucky during the last stretch: out of nowhere they got a little wind while the Chinese boat was parked in a wind hole. The Dutch overtook them and won the race.
But then the Chinese sponsored boat Dongfeng. They put together several great French sailors who usually sail alone around the world and added Chinese ambitious young people, or tourists as they were called. Chinese who don’t have any background in offshore sailing. One of their mums keeps telling them over the telephone that they should put on their seat belts. A year ago the boys didn’t speak any English and when the going gets tough (or when they make jokes) the French speak French to the annoyance of the Chinese. But to everybody’s surprise they are leading the pack. In the past the best boat won (meaning the one with the largest budget) but this race the boats are all the same and build by the race organizers. So it is about the humans occupying the yacht. And this team is outperforming the rest. This leg they took -next to the Chinese- a rookie from Australia who turned 24 yesterday, the skipper Charles Caudrelier shares that he felt this guy was good, although he only sailed a few days with him.
So it looks like we need to dive a little deeper into the essence of high performance teams. Strangely enough I have the feeling that I am sailing better myself with my 17 year old son who never showed any interest in sailing the first 16 years of his life. Last year we started regatta sailing and I am sailing better than I did for years. Starting to win a few races again and enjoying it more than I did in a long time. The skipper of Dongfeng keeps stressing that he likes the idea that with his initiative of sailing with Chinese, in the near future China could become a sailing nation. His objective is beyond winning the race. There is something larger waiting for them. Is that the trick of a high performance team? Striving for something bigger than the obvious? Having a goal beyond the one in front of you (and the rest)? In the blogs that they are writing everyday, they seem to have more fun as well. Lighthearted but desperate to win. Follow them: http://www.dongfengraceteam.cn and http://www.volvooceanrace.com