The long-awaited start day of leg one of the 10th running of the Volvo Ocean race dawned grey and very windy in Alicante, just as the forecasters had predicted, but it did not dampen the spirits of the 88 sailors who have been anxious to get this 6,500 nautical mile to Cape Town underway.
The fleet of second generation Volvo Open 70’s break from the start line in Alicante, Spain for leg 1 of The Volvo Ocean Race.
Nor did it dampen the spirits of His Majesty King Juan Carlos 1 of Spain and his two daughters. The Infanta Doña Elena left the dock with her father onboard Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/NED) and the Infanta Doña Cristina was onboard Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri/ESP). The royal party was then transferred by RIB to the Spanish Navy frigate Principe de Asturias where they joined Volvo Ocean Race CEO, Knut Frostad, to watch the start.
The Bishop of Alicante-Orihuela blessed the fleet in traditional fashion before, one by one, the crews threw off their lines, waved to the huge crowd lining the harbour and departed the basin which has been their home for the past few weeks, to the sound of their team music. Fireworks exploded over the race village, while overhead Spain’s Blue Arrows aerobatic team gave a breath-taking display. Over 900,000 visitors have visited the race village since it opened on 19 September.
Out on the race track, conditions were wild. A strong north-easterly breeze of 25 – 30 knots meant a windy start for the fleet which had to sail a short lap of the Bay of Alicante before heading back round a turning mark and out to sea. A simple breakage today could be very costly. Race winner in 1997-98 and second in 2005-06, American skipper Paul Cayard once said, 'You can’t win the Volvo Ocean Race on the first night, but you can certainly lose it,' and these wise words were echoing in the minds of the eight skippers as they jostled for position on the start line.
Waves were breaking over the boats as the teams held them into the wind to hoist their reefed mainsails. Most opted for small headsails, although Green Dragon (Ian Walker/GBR) chose a large masthead genoa.
As the start gun fired from the Spanish frigate, the fleet split, and it was Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael/BRA) who rounded the windward mark ahead of PUMA (Ken Read/USA) and Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander SWE) in a surprise third place.
Further down the fleet, the two Spanish boats, Telefónica Black and Telefónica Blue rounded the weather mark fourth and fifth followed by Team Russia. Green Dragon, who had struggled to sail as high as the rest of the fleet with their large genoa, were seventh, and Delta Lloyd (Ger O’Rourke/IRL) completed the fleet in eighth place.
The power was on as the fleet hoisted spinnakers and smoked down the leeward leg towards the final turning mark. Torben Grael kept his pole position and led the fleet as they began their sleigh ride towards Gibraltar. PUMA maintained second place, while Telefónica Blue moved up to third and Ericsson 3 dropped to fourth. Telefónica Black slipped to fifth place and Green Dragon moved up to sixth. In seventh and eighth places, as the fleet headed off on this 6,500 nautical mile leg to Cape Town, were Delta Lloyd and Team Russia.
Weather with Jennifer Lilly, Volvo Ocean Race Weather Forecaster:
Throughout today there will be a north-easterly breeze of around 20 knots. After the start, the wind speeds will average in the low 20s with possible gusts over 30 knots. The direction will generally be north-easterly, but there may be right shifts which could go as far as easterly by the end of the day.
Even more significant than the wind will be the seas. The sailors can expect swells to nearly three metres with additional wind-driven chop on top.
Both the winds and the seas are expected to decrease as the fleet heads south-west towards the Straits of Gibraltar. The question is just how quickly the conditions will calm down. For now it looks like about 12 good hours of fast sailing before things start to slow down. However, before anyone reaches the Straits of Gibraltar, the wind speeds are expected to drop below five knots.
The Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 is the 10th running of this ocean marathon. It started from Alicante in Spain, on 4 October 2008 with an in-port race. Leg One from Alicante to Cape Town started today, 11 October and the course will, for the first time, take in Cochin, India, Singapore and Qingdao, China before finishing in St Petersburg, Russia for the first time in the history of the race. Spanning some 37,000 nautical miles, stopping at 11 ports and taking nine months to complete, the Volvo Ocean Race is the world’s premier yacht race for professional racing crews.