Volvo Ocean Race starts from Alicante, Spain in just under a month, where the most competitive line up to contest the event is assembling.
After many months of preparation and training at their respective bases around the globe, six teams featuring the world’s best sailors have converged on the Spanish port in the final countdown to the 39,000 nautical mile round the world race.
With five of the Volvo Open 70 yachts already in Alicante, the arrival of PUMA Ocean Racing’s Mar Mostro tomorrow completes the cast list for the 11th edition of professional sailing’s toughest challenge.
The six teams poised to battle it out for the honour of lifting the Volvo Ocean Race trophy are Team Telefónica, Team Sanya, Groupama sailing team, Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and PUMA Ocean Racing powered by Berg Propulsion.
Made up of Olympic stars, world champions and round the world veterans, the six crews boast between them eight Olympic medals – four gold and four silver – and 106 circumnavigations in the Volvo Ocean Race/Whitbread Round the World Race alone.
The event will pitch Groupama, holder of the record for the fastest circumnavigation of the planet against double America's Cup winners Emirates Team NZ, the worlds most successful professional sailing team. Stepping up too will be the second placegetter from the last Volvo Ocean Race, Puma Racing - but this time much better prepared and determined to win what eluded them in 2008/09.
Add in Abu Dhabi, discounted by many, but who confounded their critics by being the first monohull home in the recent Rolex Fastnet Race, and smashed the record by an hour. Then there is a previous Volvo Ocean Race winner in the highly experience Mike Sanderson, skippering Team Sanya.
From the Olympic sailing theatre comes the highly successful crew aboard Telefonica led by dual Olympic medalist, Iker Martinez, whose scorecard includes 15 world titles, two gold and one silver medals at Olympic Games.
All the regions of the world are represented in the fleet - Oceania (Camper); Asia (Team Sanya); Middle East (Abu Dhabi); the America's (Puma Racing); Europe (Telefonica and Groupama). All are top teams in well prepared campaigns - only Team Sanya is not sailing a new boat especially designed for the race.
Time has run out for a possible seventh team to enter the race, which begins with an In-Port Race on October 29 before the first leg to Cape Town sets off on November 5.
Knut Frostad, Chief Executive of the Volvo Ocean Race, said: 'The arrival of all the boats in Alicante is a major milestone for the Volvo Ocean Race and it’s great to see them all in port.
'Having the teams here next to each other really brings home the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead.
'Personally I think it is a big achievement to have the most competitive fleet ever on the start line considering the crisis Europe is in.
'The six teams who will compete for the Volvo Ocean Race trophy represent the very best of the world’s sailing talent and I have no doubt this edition of the race will be the greatest the Volvo Ocean Race has seen in its 38 years.
'I would not like to predict the winner.'
As the final preparation phase starts the atmosphere in Alicante is heating up with the teams shifting gears from training to full-on race mode.
A section of the port has been turned into a temporary boatshed for the teams as they make last-minute adjustments to their cutting-edge 70ft racing yachts.
Their immediate focus will be a short qualification race, starting from Alicante on October 7.
The 600-nautical mile passage will allow the teams – and race organisers – to iron out any 11th-hour problems and will be the first opportunity for each team to compare their performance with that of their rivals ahead of the first In-Port Race.
The exhilaration on the water will be rivalled by the excitement of the Alicante Race Village, which opens on October 14.
The Race Village will feature a host of attractions including a 3D cinema, a simulator recreating the feeling of sailing a Volvo Open 70 at 25 knots, a winch grinding challenge and a zone dedicated to entertaining children.
Following the In-Port Race, the Legends Regatta and Reunion will see representatives from 61 former Volvo Ocean Race/Whitbread Round the World Race yachts converge in Alicante with up to 15 yachts from past editions racing from November 1 to 5.
The six teams will then face their biggest challenge – 6,500 nautical miles of gruelling racing from Alicante through the Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa.