An estimated 50,000 race fans packed both the docks and harbor as the seven-boat 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race fleet set out on the event’s first offshore leg from Alicante, Spain, to Cape Town, South Africa.
Leading the charge as the 66 sailors comprising this year’s teams headed out onto the open Mediterranean was Dutch-flagged Brunel, with six-time race veteran Bouwe Bekking at the helm. The fleet has since remained tightly bunched as it makes its way south and west along the southern coast of Spain toward Gibraltar and the Atlantic.
In all, it will take about three weeks for the fleet to cover the 6,487-mile leg, traditionally one of the 39,000-mile race’s toughest, with the doldrums and a first taste of the Southern Ocean among it’s many challenges. (For more on the Leg 1 click here.)
Already the fleet is off to a better start than in the 2011-12 race, when a severe storm dismasted Abu Dhabi and forced China’s Sanya to return to shore with hull damage less than 24 hours after the start. Ultimately, these would prove to be just the first of a string of breakdowns the 2011-12 race that were a major factor in the decision to switch the Volvo Ocean 65 one-design.
“By the first morning last race, we knew very quickly whose boat was fast and whose wasn’t, and which navigators were going to be in for an extra long race,” Team Alvimedica media crew Amory Ross said of the first couple of days of the race this time around. “But we’ve just spent the first night within sight of all six competitors, at all times, and I’m sure Alvimedica is excited at the fleet’s parity.”
”Come what may, the crew on Team Alvimedica is just relieved that all the waiting is over, and the action is beginning,” said watch captain and team leader Mark Towill, shortly before the start. “We've put a lot into it, 15,000 miles of training, a ton of planning, just a lot that's gone into it. Not only from the sailing team, but from our shore team. We're really excited, really looking forward to the race to Cape Town.”
On Day 3 Team SCA—the first all-female crew to compete in the VOR for more than a decade—led the way out into the Atlantic after a bold move by their navigator, Libby Greenhalgh, in which the boat took a northern route through Strait of Gibraltar, while the rest of fleet sailed south: closer to Morocco and the Spanish city of Ceuta, on Africa’s north coast.
“Everyone except us was going the southerly route through the Strait, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why,” Greenhalgh said afterward. “We wanted to stay with the fleet, but we also wanted to stick with our plan, and our plan has us sailing north.”
“The team collectively hooted and hollered for joy as Libby told us we were ahead. Our risk paid off big time, and we are now officially sailing in the Atlantic Ocean,” reported the boat’s media crew, Corinne Halloran.
Alas, 20 minutes after reaching the Atlantic, the wind dropped and Team SCA had no choice but to watch and wait as the other teams all started catching up again. So goes sailboat racing. It’s a long way to Cape Town.
For more on this year’s race, including background information on the boats, course and teams, click here.