The starting gun to the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 will fire on Saturday at 12:00 GMT/UTC in Alicante as six boats designed primarily to blast through the oceans battle for the first points, and an early psychological boost, in a quickfire inshore sprint.
Saturday's Iberdrola In-Port Race marks the start of over eight months of full-on competition and intense rivalry between the six teams - Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, Groupama sailing team, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG, Team Sanya
and Team Telefónica
And while the Volvo Ocean Race is known as the world's premier offshore sailing test, teams cannot afford to ignore the shorter form. In-port races take place in all 10 host ports along the 39,000 nautical mile route and deliver over 20 percent of the points. Sailed close to the shore, they provide a spectacle for the millions of people who will watch the race worldwide, while also providing opportunities to climb the leaderboard.
"There's a lot riding on the in-port races - they are going to be intense,"
helmsman/trimmer Adam Minoprio. The 26-year-old New Zealander is a newcomer to ocean racing but will be in his element inshore, having won the 2009 World Match Racing Tour.
"Team New Zealand has a great background with inshore racing and the skillset of the crew makes us a very strong team,"
Minoprio added. "This week we sailed the in-port race course which took us an hour and everyone on board was exhausted after it. It works out we have to do a sail change every eight minutes so there will be a lot of hard work on board."
Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker, who won silver medals at the Olympics in 1996 and 2000, said, "Everything is ready and we can't wait to line up against the other teams. We have spent this week concentrating on inshore manoeuvres and it has gone very well. The forecast is for strong breeze on Saturday so there will be extra pressure on the crew to get it right."
Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez, who picked up gold at the 2004 Olympics and silver in 2008, has the added boost of having his long-term crew Xabi Fernández alongside him.
Fernández, who fills the role of trimmer on the Volvo Open 70, said, "The boats aren't designed for this type of race but instead for ocean racing and the quickfire manoeuvres required in an in-port race are very complicated to perform. If you make one mistake you can lose a lot of ground and end up finishing last."
Ken Read, skipper of PUMA's Mar Mostro, said he has mixed feelings ahead of the first in-port race.
"It's very clear how good everybody is so I guess I feel a little trepidation knowing that,"
he said. "But we're as good as we're going to be and it's time to get out there and put our money where our mouth is. Every point counts, and if you took the six teams right now and had a tiddlywinks contest it would be a blood match. Every point is huge."
Making his debut in the Volvo Ocean Race, Groupama
sailing team skipper Franck Cammas promised his team would put up a fight.
"This is what we are here for, to fight against these teams and these skippers,"
he said. "It's always a great fight because these people sail extremely well. They make very few mistakes and it's hard to outsmart them but we will put up a fight."
Despite being the only second-generation boat in the fleet, Team Sanya
skipper Mike Sanderson can rest easy over his yacht's inshore potential. In the 2008-09 race the boat, then raced as Telefónica Blue, placed on the podium in all seven in-port races with four wins.
"As Telefónica Blue, she was great in the inshore racing and a rocket ship upwind or tight reaching,"
Sanderson said. "Hopefully we have kept 99 per cent of that and improved her performance for the heavy air stuff."
The Iberdrola In-Port Race is expected to take around an hour to complete. Racing will be streamed live at www.volvooceanrace.com
and will be accompanied by a live blog of the action.
The first offshore leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, from Alicante to Cape Town, starts on November 5.