There were anxious faces on all six Volvo boats before the start of the leg from Auckland to Itajai in Brazil. As Sanya led the fleet out of the harbour, they all knew they were headed into 55 knot winds, heavy rain and four metre swells in the Bay of Plenty and beyond.
The forecast for the next three days is about as bad as it gets for those crew members who suffer from sea sickness. The high seas and strong winds will continue until Tuesday and a trough of low pressure will dump bucket loads of rain, making life on board cold, wet and miserable.
It will be interesting to see which route the navigators choose. With the south-easterly being on the nose for anyone contemplating the rhumbline, it is likely that most boats will head due south, trying to get to the more benevolent south-westerlies in the higher lattitudes.
However, there was plenty of action even before the boats left the harbour. The course required them to beat upwind towards North Head and back to a mark by the Harbour Bridge before they could set off up the north shore and around the northern end of Rangitoto Island.
At the start, five boats chose the boat end with Telefonica being the first to jump. Groupama, at the pin end, was badly placed and didn't improve, trailing the others all the way.
The surprise packet was Sanya, the oldest boat in the fleet. Kiwi skipper Mike Sanderson put the Chinese entry into a perfect position on the city side of the harbour and could not be headed, holding a comfortable 200 metre lead as he passed inside Rough Rock in front of a huge crowd on North Head.
As expected, a lot of the action took place between Camper and Telefonica, with Chris Nicholson and Iker Martinez going tack for tack and changing positions four times during the two harbour legs. Finally, Telefonica on starboard caused Camper to duck her stern and managed to clear the mark of Rangitoto a few boat lengths in front.
While these two scrapped, Abu Dhabi followed Sanya round North Head, while Puma was in fifth position ahead of the French.
The next 24 hours will prove interesting and it is to be hoped that there is no repeat of the start in Alicante, when two boats failed to make it through the first day. As shore crews strip out their tents and pack containers, they must be wondering whether their duties are in fact over until Itajai.
- Roger McMillan in Auckland.
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