by Lizzie Ward
The Volvo Ocean Race teams were given a royal send off today as they went head to head for the first time in a qualifying race held just three weeks before the start in Alicante.
Teams at work on the fleet, prior to the start of the Alicante qualifying race. - Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12
Spain’s Crown Princess Letizia was officially declared godmother to Telefónica at a pre-race ceremony on the dock at the Alicante Race Village.
Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the Princess, accompanied by her husband Crown Prince Felipe, as she handed the team the Spanish flag they will carry throughout the Volvo Ocean Race, which starts on October 29.
Prince Felipe is himself a former Olympic sailor and the royal couple greeted Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez and his crew before going on board to inspect the boat.
They then met the rest of the skippers and toured Race HQ, stepping inside the high-tech Race Control room, from where the boats will be monitored on their 39,000 nautical mile race around the world.
'It’s a great honour,' said Martínez. 'That they take an interest in sailing is fantastic in itself but the fact that the Princess has become the boat´s godmother is a real privilege.'
Team Telefónica are up against Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand, Groupama sailing team, Team Sanya, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG Propulsion and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.
Although no points will be given for this qualifying race, there was still a buzz of excitement dockside as the teams prepared to face off for the first time.
Ken Read, skipper of PUMA’s Mar Mostro, said: 'I'm not going to read too much into the result but there are butterflies in my stomach for a race that doesn't mean anything. That has to be a good thing.'
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing skipper Ian Walker added: 'We're going to go out and give it our best. You either go 100 per cent or you don't go at all.'
On the water the cloak of secrecy finally dropped as the six cutting-edge yachts met for the 360-nautical mile race following months of design work and performance training behind closed doors.
With a six-knot breeze blowing in the bay it was Chris Nicholson’s Camper first out of the blocks, crossing the start line in front of their rivals.
By mark four, Camper were well ahead of Telefónica, followed by Abu Dhabi, Puma, Groupama and Sanya.
The course for the qualification race will take the fleet out into the Mediterranean to a turning point at Palma, Mallorca before returning to Alicante early on Sunday.
According to Race Control Manager Gonzalo Infante, the crews are likely to face a range of conditions during the race, with light breeze at the start developing into stronger winds overnight. The highest winds are expected around the time the boats reach Palma early on Saturday morning.
'Tonight will be windy and we will have to be careful – that’s going to be tricky,' said Groupama 4 skipper Franck Cammas. 'It’s getting closer and we feel it!'
Sanya skipper Mike Sanderson started the race, despite undergoing emergency surgery for appendicitis just last week. His plan was to leave the boat before it went offshore.
The aim of the qualifier is to trial safety measures before the round the world race gets underway. During the short race the teams will have to demonstrate safety procedures including a man-overboard drill, fitting their emergency steering system and hoisting their storm sails.
The next time the teams meet on the racecourse will be at the Alicante In-Port Race on October 29. On November 5 the crews will then face their first major challenge – 6,500 nautical miles of gruelling racing from Alicante through the Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa in the first of the nine offshore legs.
Volvo Ocean Race website