ALICANTE, Spain—After some friendly jousting in the calm waters off the Alicante coast, it's time for the real racing to begin in the Volvo Ocean Race.
Six yachts will set off Saturday on the first offshore leg of the grueling around-the-world race, a trek of 6,500 nautical miles from Spain to Cape Town. If history is any guide, the team that reaches South Africa first will be the clear front-runner for overall victory when the fleet reaches its end destination in Galway, Ireland, next July.
Ever since the race switched to a single class competition in 1997, the winner of the first leg has gone on to lift the trophy the next summer. However, with a very evenly matched fleet in this year's edition, at least some of the skippers don't expect that trend to continue.
"I've heard it several times this great tradition that you have to win leg one to win the race, but I'm not so sure about that this time," said Ken Read, skipper of the U.S.-based Puma team. "This time around, it's very clear that that's not the case -- that there are six very well prepared boats. I have a feeling that you can see that historical factor knocked off. I won't be shocked, that's for sure."
Abu Dhabi leaves Spain with a small edge, having won the opening in-port race in Alicante last weekend to earn six points. More than 20 percent of all points in the race will be decided in in-port races.
The teams leave Spain on Saturday and are scheduled to arrive in Cape Town around three weeks later.
From South Africa, they will make stops in the United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, Miami, Portugal and France before finishing in Galway in July.
The journey is expected to see the fleet battle 45-foot waves, hurricane force winds and the potential threat of pirates and icebergs. The race, which started as the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973, has claimed the lives of five sailors in its history.
The fleet is also made up of Spanish entry Telefonica, France's Groupama and Camper, a joint New Zealand-Spain venture.