Last Sunday the fleet of 7 teams started the 1450-mile sprint to Lisbon in conditions close to ideal: sun, breeze from the east 15-20 knots. The race was preceded by a small scandal in the blue-violet mill: at 6am AkzoNobel suddenly got fired a couple of days earlier for some «financial fraud,» skipper Simeon Tienponte. The sleeping guards tried to stop Tienpont, but he responded by slipping them a court order which gave the yachtsman the right not only to stay on the boat during the first stage of the VOR, but also to prevent her from leaving without her person on board.
By the start of the first stage, the bay of Alicante was crowded with hundreds of spectator boats. One of the toughest episodes of the struggle in the history of the world round took place at the exit of the Bay of Alicante. On the way to the last sign before entering the open sea, Donfeng took a course that intersected with Team Brunel and MAPFRE trajectories. The last two had to sharply turn the Fordewind to get out of the way for the Chinese team, which had the preferential right.
The three boats were so close that the distance between them from time to time was not more than a meter. Neither Brunel nor MAPFRE managed to act fast enough, as a result both teams earned a penalty. The penalty instantly put the recent leaders at the tail of the fleet. After winning the first round of the fight, Dongfeng rushed forward, chased by Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Turn the Tide on Plastic. All three of these teams periodically moved to the boundaries of the course in search of free passage to the sea, following at arm's length from the spectators' boats. In one of the most intense moments, Turn the Tide on Plastic almost ran into the spectator boat. The yachtsmen were screaming and gestures trying to clear their way.
According to the Russian journalist Elena Otekina, who covered the start of VOR on the spot, one can blame the organizers for the situation, who incorrectly shielded the audience from the racing course on the last sign, dangerously reducing the distance between fans and yachtsmen.
The first 18 hours at sea showed how tense this race will be: MAPFRE and Dongfeng, the two favourites of the competition, lost their advantage overnight and were at the end of the fleet. «That night, we lost a lot. We are in 5th or 6th position, it is very hard»for us, - confessed Jin Hao Chen from Dongfeng team. - Pascal and Charles worked all night to speed us up. It was a bad night, but sport is sport. We can still go back!»
The biggest winners of the first night were Vestas 11th Hour Racing and AkzoNobel. It was a particularly big surprise to see the Dutch at the head of the fleet, whose composition was approved just before the start.
Both teams turned north off the coast, hitting the high pressure lane after Cabo de Gata. As for MAPFRE and Dongfeng, they advanced further south and hit the lane a little less pressure than the more successful opponents. However, the third and seventh places were less than 5 miles apart so everything could change dramatically after Gibraltar.
And that changed: although Vestas is still in the lead, MAPFRE took second place ahead of Dongfeng. The speed of the leader now is only 3.2 knots, and if this goes further, the pursuers will catch up with the blue boat very soon.
There are still a thousand miles to the finish line. Instead of guessing at the coffee grounds, we suggest watching a cool video of Gibraltar crossing taken from a helicopter for now.