Conditions were perfect for the fifth and final start of the 30,000-mile race with a 12 to 15 knot breeze building to around 20 knots as the big moment approached. With just minutes until the start Brad Van Liew, Derek Hatfield, Zbigniew 'Gutek' Gutkowski and Chris Stanmore-Major turned their bows towards the line, powered up their boats and began the first charge of the 3,600-mile sprint across the Atlantic to La Rochelle in France where they started the race more than eight months ago.
At 1500 local time (1900 UTC) the gun fired and the boats powered over the line, Canadian Derek Hatfield claiming line honours onboard Active House for the first time in the race. Metres apart and just seconds behind were Gutek's Operon Racing, Brad on Le Pingouin and CSM on Spartan.
But it was all change by the time the boats reached the first mark, around a mile from the starting line. CSM put on a display of Spartan's capabilities, finding extra speed and flying past his race rivals to reach the turning mark in first place. From that moment on it was out into open sea for skippers, next stop France.
Earlier in the day hundreds of people packed the docks at Charleston Maritime Center for an emotionally-charged farewell ceremony. More than 80 spectator boats joined the four Eco 60s on the water, accompanying them for the long passage out to the start line.
With three-metre seas running outside of the harbour the spectator fleet was reduced to around 30 of the hardiest support boats - but those that stayed were rewarded with one of the most exciting starts the race has seen.
Ocean sprint five promises to be full of exhilaration and drama - with each skipper facing their challenges. Charleston's hometown hero Brad has amassed an unassailable lead at the head of the fleet, but in order to take the overall title he must finish the race. That provides something of a dilemma for the 43-year-old, who must decide whether to push for a clean sweep of all five legs or throttle back and accept a position lower in the fleet.
For Derek and Gutek the fight will be a personal one, each starting the leg tied on 43 points. The winner of their one-on-one battle will claim second place, with the loser having to settle for less. Buoyed by podium positions in the previous two sprints, CSM will be waiting to pounce on any mistakes made by his rivals.
Vital bonus points are once again on offer for the fastest boats through the sprint five speed gate set between latitudes 35° West and 20° West. But just to throw in one last twist, the race committee have ruled that the skippers must enter the gate south of 48° North - a big diversion from the shortest course. It will make for some very interesting racing and some tough decisions for the skippers.
Stealth mode also returns for the final sprint, allowing the racers to hide their positions from each other as well as the public for 24 hours. Unlike in past sprints where skippers could use stealth mode twice, on ocean sprint five they will only be allowed one opportunity to enter stealth mode.
'Sprint' really encapsulates the final leg, with first boat expected to arrive in La Rochelle in as little as 12 days.
Velux 5 Oceans website - www.velux5oceans.com