As the skippers pointed towards the Basque Country and set sail in the third leg, all are looking to sail fast yet safe in order to successfully complete the solo circumnavigation of the planet, a feat achieved by so few.
The start, originally re-scheduled for 10:00, was delayed by just over two hours to allow an American Aircraft carrier to leave, accompanied by numerous support craft, a regular occurrence in this part of the world. Leaving from the protected Hamptons Road Bay, Unai BASURKO's (ESP) Pakea was first across the line, after both Bernard STAMM (SUI) Kojiro SHIRAISHI (JPN) went too early and were forced to power down so as not to cross the line before the gun. This left the young Basque skipper to charge from behind and be the first to cross the line and lead the charge for his home town across the Atlantic.
BASURKO was quickly followed by STAMM and then SHIRAISHI, and finally Sir Robin KNOX-JOHNSTON (GBR) on SAGA Insurance only a short distance behind. However, within ten minutes of the start, Pakea had dropped to the back of the fleet, with Cheminees Poujoulat and Spirit of Yukoh already building a healthy lead as the yachts tacked to pass through the huge Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The start, which took place in sheltered waters, saw a northerly wind of around 15 knots power the Open 60s through calm waters. However, the conditions the other side of the Bridge-Tunnel should be much tougher, with stronger winds and large seas.
The departure from downtown Norfolk in the morning saw all the skippers, race organizers, local volunteers and sailing fans pay respect to the young people recently killed by a gunman at Virginia Tech University, the worst school shooting massacre in the nation's history, that saw 33 dead and many more injured. Before the yachts departed, everyone respected a minute's silence in a small ceremony and the US flag in the marina was flown at half mast.
Back on the course, the most interesting battle will be between KNOX-JOHNSTON, the British sailing legend, and BASURKO, the Basque hero. BASURKO holds a 42-hour lead over the iconic solo sailor and will surely want to be one of the first to arrive back in his home town of Bilbao. The young skipper is counting the days until he sails under the famous 'Puente de Vizcaya' bridge, an important spiritual and emotional landmark for BASURKO.
Meanwhile, KNOX-JOHNSTON is focussing on a potential podium finish, which would be a remarkable feat for the 68 year old adventurer, whose race has been dogged by technological problems and breakages on the boat since the start, but who has yet still managed to remain competitive despite all the barriers. With a well prepared boat and a steely determination, KNOX-JOHNSTON is hoping to pull off a magnificent leg of ocean racing to claim the third place.
Defending champion STAMM holds a lead nearly two weeks over second placed Kojiro Shiraishi of Japan and is expected to take the overall title again when the fleet arrives in Bilbao. However, STAMM is taking nothing for granted. The skilful sailor is highly competitive and although he will want to sail safely and bring the boat back to Europe in one piece, he will also want to finish with a flourish and take first place in every leg.
'I hope to arrive in Bilbao in around 13 days,' said STAMM. 'Although it is difficult to be sure as the weather is not very stable. This leg is very different. The Southern Ocean is a desert, whilst the Atlantic is full of obstacles; icebergs off Nova Scotia, lots of fishing activity and commercial traffic. You have to be very careful. Many times you are fighting for survival in tough conditions, but most of the time you are racing and putting in a lot of work to get maximum speed.'
On his battle for third, BASURKO said, 'I will try to take the fastest route possible based on the weather conditions. If I don't break anything, I believe I can arrive ahead of Sir Robin, given my boat is as fast or faster than his. I have complete confidence in Pakea, especially given all the hard work from my team and she is better than ever.'
The VELUX 5 OCEANS is the longest race for any individual in any sport. Over the first few days, the fleet will make their way along the northern coast of Spain to Cape Finistère where they will turn south towards the Southern Ocean. However, all of the skippers know that this race is a marathon and not a sprint. During the 30,000 miles sailed in the VELUX 5 OCEANS race, the yachts will encounter some of the most extreme sea and weather conditions on the planet.
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