The seven-strong fleet of the 12th Volvo Ocean Race raced out of Alicante on Saturday for the punishing first leg to the V & A Waterfront, Cape Town with rains and strong winds forecast to greet them in the opening eight hours. Team Brunel took the honours after the fleet bade farewell to a memorable Alicante nine-day stopover before heading out to the Mediterranean, through the Straits of Gibraltar and then into the Atlantic during the first week of a nine-month, 38,739-mile marathon. Skippered by Bouwe Bekking, the Dutch boat headed the seven-strong fleet out of the Spanish coastal city which hosts the Race HQ and has given the 66 sailors competing in Leg 1 an incredible send-off with tens of thousands visiting the Race Village every day.
They were hotly pursued by both Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and MAPFRE. Memories of the last “salida” (departure) from Alicante three years ago will still be fresh for many – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya were forced to limp back to shore with crippling damage within 24 hours after an opening night storm in the Med wrought early havoc. There’s no such carnage predicted this time but Race meteorologist Gonzalo Infante suggested it will be “messy” from about 2200 local time (2000 UTC) on the first leg when rains are likely to drench the fleet and winds could pick up to around 20 knots.
Traditionally, boats who have won Leg 1 have gone on to win the entire race but Groupama bucked that trend in 2011-12 when they finished last of only three boats who managed to complete the 6,487 miles to Cape Town. The French team, led by Franck Cammas, took time to get into their stride but eventually emerged as deserved winners by the time the fleet reached their home port of Lorient, the penultimate stopover. Another close race is predicted again for 2014-15, especially with the new one-design Volvo Ocean 65 levelling the playing field, but for the 50,000 or so who packed the Alicante Race Village to wave the fleet on their way, the event has already proved a winner.
Leg 1 from Alicante to Cape Town began today with their expected arrival at the V & A Waterfront between 2 and 6 November. In all, the boats will cover 38,739 nautical miles over nine months before the adventure finishes in Gothenburg, Sweden on June 27, 2015. They will visit 11 ports in all, including a pit-stop in The Hague.