Volvo Ocean Race Leg 1 - Brutal sea conditions

CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand at the start of leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 from Alicante, Spain
Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 first leg started today, 5th November, from Alicante, Spain and will take the fleet over 6,500 nautical miles to Cape Town, South Africa

Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand enjoyed the best of a fast and furious inshore course today before the most evenly matched fleet in Volvo Ocean Race history blasted out towards brutal sea conditions at the start of leg one.

A crowd of 60,000 watched as Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe fired the gun to set the six boats on their way at 1300 GMT (1400 CET). French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane joined Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing on the inshore course, making it a gala start to the first ocean leg.

PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG at the start of leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 from Alicante, Spain

Chris Nicholson’s Camper were the slickest of the six away, as winds gusting up to 30 knots greeted the fleet. Camper increased their lead over Puma Ocean Racing powered by BERG to 1 minute 39 seconds at the Alicante leaving mark at the end of the eight-nm course, with Team Telefónica another 36 seconds behind.

Abu Dhabi came next, followed by Groupama sailing team, who took a voluntary two-turn penalty after a collision with Puma’s Mar Mostro just before the start, and Team Sanya.

'Our skills are offshore for sure,' said Cammas, skipper of the first French team to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race in 18 years. 'We are in this race for the first time so we need to learn a few things. It’s important to finish the first 24 hours in good shape because the race is very long and we don’t want to break anything early on. The first night could be the hardest of the whole leg.'

Emotions were running high on the dockside prior to the departure ceremony as the sailors said tearful goodbyes to their loved ones, who they won’t see until they reach Cape Town around three weeks later.

A huge crowd turned out to enjoy the excitement pulsing through the docks. Even the most hardened competitors were caught up in the moment as the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12, the 11th edition of the race, took up a journey that will take the fleet over 39,000nm around the world, finishing in Galway, Ireland in July.

For Sanya’s Mike Sanderson, the race’s most experienced skipper and winner of the 2005-06 edition, it is the first time he has competed in this race as a father – and there was no hiding the emotion for the New Zealander.

'Today feels different to any race I have done,' said Sanderson, whose wife Emma competed in the 2001-02 edition on Amer Sports Two. 'There are more emotions when you leave for a Volvo Ocean Race and even more so when you have to say goodbye to kids. I’d be lying if I said it was just business as usual. It means so much more.'

Zinedine Zidane from France and Crown Prince Felipe of Spain at the start of leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 from Alicante, Spain

Following the traditional 'kiss and cry' moment the teams were introduced to Prince Felipe. The Prince, a keen sailor, visited the Volvo Ocean Race with his wife Letizia when the Princess of Asturias was named godmother to Telefónica last month.

Zinedine Zidane from France at the start of leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 from Alicante, Spain

Zidane heralded the race as 'beautiful' before joining the Abu Dhabi team. He might have added that it was extremely wet, after he jumped backwards off the boat at the end of the inshore course.

Professional big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton, who was on board Puma's Mar Mostro, was doubtless more accustomed to leaping off. He said he had 'incredible respect' for the crews.

With the boats departing to their team songs blasting out across the Race Village, the spotlight turned to the racecourse where hundreds of spectator boats had gathered to get up-close and personal with the six Volvo Open 70s.

Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing at the start of leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 from Alicante, Spain

Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing had drawn first blood in the event’s curtain-raiser, the Iberdrola In-Port Race, sailing to a 14-minute victory to claim six points and the top spot on the leaderboard heading out to Cape Town.

Leg one sees the teams take on the unpredictable Mediterranean, the tidal bottleneck of the Straits of Gibraltar and the strong northeasterly trade winds of the North Atlantic before facing the Doldrums, a constantly-moving area of high pressure found a few hundred miles either side of the equator, notorious for being one of the toughest regions on the planet to sail through.

Once through the Doldrums the teams will search out the southeasterly trade winds close to the Brazilian shore, hoping to pick up the meteorological slingshot effect that will fire them through the South Atlantic to Cape Town.

The fleet of Volvo Open 70's at the start of leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean race 2011-12 from Alicante, Spain

The teams will have to face a baptism of fire in the first 24 hours of the race, with head-on winds of more than 25 knots forecast and choppy seas – potentially boat-breaking conditions.

'The conditions at first will be ideal for these boats – fast sailing in fresh breeze,' said Gonzalo Infante, the Volvo Ocean Race’s chief meteorologist. 'But within about 12 hours, as the boats race into the night, they will have to punch upwind into winds around 25 knots and confused seas. These boats will be slamming around and it will be very wet on deck.'

Rounding positions and provisional times at the Alicante leaving mark:
1. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand 39 minutes 44 seconds,
2. Puma Ocean Racing powered by BERG + 1:39 sec
3. Team Telefónica + 2:15
4. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing + 2:55
5. Groupama sailing team + 3:57
6. Sanya +7:38

Volvo Ocean Race website