Puma have wasted no time in stamping their intentions to win the Leg 6 race to their home country, leading the fleet out of Itajaí and into the first few crucial days of the 4,800 nautical mile course to Miami.
After a six-leg inshore course off Itajaí’s coast in winds of 15-20 knots from the south, Puma Ocean Racing powered by BERG were followed around the final mark by Team Telefónica, Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Groupama sailing team.
The five teams are in hot-pursuit of the maximum 30 points, which could prove vital as overall leaders Telefónica hold just a 16-point lead over second-placed Groupama with four legs to go.
The fleet will face more moderate conditions than those encountered in previous leg starts, with 14 knots from the southeast creating perfect reaching conditions for the opening hours.
The conditions are likely to favour Groupama, who have proven time and time again that they are the team to beat on a reaching racetrack.
'We can enjoy this leg a lot, it has a lot of good conditions, a lot of reaching conditions,' Groupama skipper Franck Cammas said. 'It’s good for the crew, it’s good for the boat, and I think we can manage this Volvo Open 70 very well in these conditions.'
But, with Camper on the hunt for their first offshore leg victory, no one can rest easy. Co-skipper Stu Bannatyne said his team mates were ready to rumble.
'It’s going to be a very tough leg, all the boats will be very tough to beat,' the six-time Volvo veteran said.
'It looks like a three-stage race with the beginning and end separated by trade winds in the middle.
'We’re looking at an average of 14 days, about half the time we spent at sea on the last leg. We’re looking forward to it.'
The weather is expected to intensify as the crews near the South Brazil Bight, where a violent low-pressure system with wind in excess of 30 knots awaits.
There are plenty of other weather obstacles littering the course from Itajaí including tropical weather systems, strong currents and the dreaded Doldrums.
A tricky transition from the low-pressure system into the south-southeast trade winds will also be crucial.
The teams will have to weigh up whether they choose to chase the trade winds further offshore, or take advantage of a strong coastal current and sea breezes inshore in the race to the Caribbean.
The final 1,300 nm stage from the Caribbean to the Miami finish line could prove to be a drag race, but violent lows that develop in the Gulf of Mexico and north of Florida near Cape Hatteras could give rise to an overtaking lane.