by Lucy Harwood
Today at 1400 local time (1300 GMT) the eight-boat fleet of the Volvo Ocean Race 2008/09 crossed the start line for the 6,500 mile journey to Cape Town.
Green Dragon at the start of Leg 1 - Volvo Ocean Race 2008-2009
The start saw big seas and a strong 20 knot north easterly breeze, but there was no repeat of the collisions at last weeks In Port race and the fleet had a clean start. Green Dragon crossed the start line on port tack and headed to the right hand side of the course.
Both PUMA and Ericsson 4 stuck close to the shoreline, it was a decision that paid dividends as they pushed ahead of the rest of the fleet crashing through waves on the upwind beat to the top mark. The fleet remained split between throughout the short inland course, with Ericsson 4, PUMA and Ericsson 3 dominating proceedings and showing their power as they held clear water from the chasing pack. The two Telefoncia boats, which took the top spots during last week’s In Port race, were locked in a battle for fourth and fifth place. Whilst Green Dragon remained in the hunt after their tactical decision from the start line left them playing catch up on the top end of the fleet.
There was huge variety of sails being flown by the eight strong fleet. The Green Dragon opted to fly a mast head reaching spinnaker as they left Alicante Bay for a downwind sleigh ride to Gibraltar. Others chose a range of reaching, fractional and masthead sails. As the fleet headed through the first gate on the course and into the Mediterranean for Gibraltar, there was a shake up in positions. Telefoncia Blue charged hard with a big spinnaker gaining ground on the leaders and pushing PUMA into third place after a slow sail change. Also making gains was Green Dragon who recovered well from their start to claim forth place, locking themselves in a battle with one of the race favourites Telefoncia Black. With strong conditions forecast for the first 12 hours it will be a sprint to Gibraltar, where both the winds and the seas are expected to decrease as the boats head southwest increasing the potential for a park up as they pass through the Straits.
It was an emotional goodbye for the fleet in front of hundreds of spectators lining the dockside in Alicante Spain. All the crews were greeted His Majesty King Juan Carlos 1 of Spain and his two daughters and also blessed by Bishop of Orihuela before each boat departed to their own team song. Green Dragon was the fourth boat to leave the dock with the sound of their team song U2 'Elevation' pumping in the background. The Irish and Chinese supporters were out in force to cheer on Ian Walker and his crew as they set off for the estimated 23-day race to Cape Town.
Before leaving the dock, Green Dragon skipper Ian Walker commented, 'It is amazing to be here, we have all worked so hard to get to this point am I am incredibly proud of everyone on the team. There have been a lot of people involved in this project in order to make it a reality and I cannot thank them enough. I can promise that we will be incredibly dedicated to making sure we do the very best out here on the water. It looks like we will have some good breeze to kick of proceedings, the race to the Straits will be interesting and I am sure the battle through to the Atlantic maybe make or break in terms of podium position'.
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