At 1415 local time (0115 GMT) on Saturday 21st February, the four 40ft yachts in the Portimão Global Ocean Race crossed the start line of Leg 3 in Wellington, New Zealand.
Ahead of the seven offshore yachtsmen is a potential of 38 days and 7,500 miles in the most demanding sea areas on the planet as the fleet leave New Zealand and head south-east into the Southern Ocean en route to Cape Horn before turning northwards towards the finish line in Ilhabela, Brazil.
As the fleet prepared to leave Queen’s Wharf, last minute preparations to Team Mowgli were still underway as a courier handed a new masthead wind instrument unit to Jeremy Salvesen and David Thomson just 30 minutes before the start and the vital wand was hastily installed before the British duo left the dock.
In bright sunshine and 25-35 knots of NNW breeze, the start was high-speed with the majority of boats carrying three reefs and staysail as they reached across the line at 15 knots.
Boris Herrmann and Felix Oehme were first across on Class 40 Beluga Racer, chased by single-handed entry, Michel Kleinjans, on Open 40 Roaring Forty with the Chilean duo of Felipe Cubillos and José Muñoz in third on Desafio Cabo de Hornos and Salvesen and Thomson on Team Mowgli in fourth place. As the only boat carrying a Solent headsail, Desafio Cabo de Hornos rocketed away from the start on a power reach with Cubillos and Muñoz quickly building a 1.5 mile lead.
Beluga Racer held second place followed by Roaring Forty and Team Mowgli in third and fourth as the Portimão Global Ocean Race fleet gybed, set spinnakers and gennakers and shot south through the heads separating Wellington Harbour from Cook Strait, leaving the spectator boats and 11 yachts competing in a double-handed race organised by the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club in their wake.
Shortly after the start, Herrmann and Oehme reported problems with the autopilots and rudder reference units onboard Beluga Racer, but the German duo swiftly resolved this potentially dramatic issue and the fleet are in good shape.
With the four boats sitting on the top section of a low pressure system heading south-east in the same direction as the fleet, breeze of 30-40 knots from the north-west is expected before the wind turns westerly and decreases, providing the fleet with fast, downwind sailing in the opening stages of Leg 3.
As the boats pass through the 50 mile wide exit of Cook Strait between Cape Campbell on North Island and Cape Palliser on South Island, the peaks of the Aorangi Mountains to the north will be the last sight of land until the fleet round Cape Horn, 5,000 miles to the east across the Southern Ocean.
The course for the Portimão Global Ocean Race takes in some of the roughest waters on the planet. Starting in Portimão, Portugal the race stops in Cape Town, South Africa, Wellington New Zealand, Ilhabela, Brazil and Charleston, USA before finishing back in Portugal, a total of 30,000 nautical miles. Leg 3 - Wellington to Ilhabela - start 21st February 2009
Wellington, the capital city of a nation that is sailing mad, will treat the sailors to a belated Christmas and allow the teams time to regroup before tackling the second half of the race. Leg 3 takes the fleet back into the Southern Ocean, this time around the infamous Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America.
It will be another turbulent ride dodging the worst cold fronts and riding the best. Those that are lucky will get a glimpse of the famous cape that has intrigued and devastated sailors for centuries: others will give the land a wide berth before turning their bows north and heading for Ilhabela, a tiny, tropical paradise off the coast of Brazil. With the worst of the race behind them sailors will take time to explore the deep natural rain forest and laze on hot sandy beaches.