Team Brunel led the race out of Alicante

The seven-strong fleet of the 12th Volvo Ocean Race raced out of Alicante on Saturday for the punishing first leg to 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.

Indeed the build up to the Volvo Ocean Race proved so popular that a record number of visitors, almost 110,000, were admitted to the Race Village in its first four days of opening, where they were able to explore and to enjoy the more than two hundred free activities available.

And there were also beneficial effects from the race to the city’s hoteliers with the Provincial Hotel Association (APHA) estimating that there was a hotel occupancy rate of more than 90% during the weekend, with an improved rate of around eighty percent during the remainder of the following week.

And the good news for the city didn’t end there, with the announcement by the CEO of the Volvo Ocean Race, Knut Frostad, on Saturday that the next edition of the race, which will take place in 2017-18, will also be held in Alicante. Planning is already underway, he said, and well advanced, and he is confident that it will probably attract even more boats to the race.

Asked about the possibility of having more yachts in the future, Frostad said that new sponsors have already confirmed they will begin campaigning, but declined to give details. "In any case there will certainly be more than 9 or 10 boats," he said.

Together with Hakan Samuelsson, CEO of Volvo Cars, and Olof Persson, President of AB Volvo and CEO of Volvo Group, Frostad said how the organization used the ‘know-how’ of the Volvo Group for producing and introducing the monotype concept into the race. He said that there was also a great deal of surprise when he announced a number of changes similar to Formula 1, for the fleet that will compete in 2017-18.

Both Samuelsson and Persson have confirmed that there will be a change to a one-design fleet, and that the concept of a shared service center will be supported from the beginning. "Putting the focus on the performance of the crews will provide a huge improvement to the race." said Samuelsson.

The Volvo Cars CEO added that, despite the many competitions that the company sponsor, they continue to rely on this event as their best marketing tool. “Constant challenge and the thrill of sailing around the world is vital to us. It allows us to interact with our customers in an environment that represents what we want to achieve. This is a top event and it receives much attention all over the globe," he concluded .

Images David Ramos

Credit: www.volvooceanrace.com

Filed under: http://www.theleader.info/article/45201/

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