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Martin Tasker: Wind lets down Volvo start

Published: 7:48PM Sunday October 30, 2011 Source: ONE Sport

The Volvo Ocean Race is billed as the longest professional sporting event in the world and in taking nine months to sail 39,000 nautical miles the label is certainly merited.

So it's a touch ironic that such a marathon should start with a sprint, and even more ironic that the sprint should turn into a hideous wallow with these ocean greyhounds looking like a pack of nodding dogs see-sawing in a windless swell.

That was the story of the in-port race off the Volvo headquarters in Alicante, the Spanish port currently in festival mode as the big start looms in a week's time.

Sadly the practice race was all the organisers hoped the real thing would be with light airs giving way to a cracking breeze which the Emirates Team New Zealand crew on Camper lapped up.

The actual race began with a breeze that faded to nothing with just one boat breaking away from the pack to win a shortened sprint by a huge margin. It was very satisfying for British double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker driving Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and very frustrating for everyone else as his lead grew and grew.

But given the lottery element created by the fickle and fading breeze it became no surprise to hear Ken Read on Puma express utter delight at second with the Kiwis on Camper equally pleased and relieved at taking third.

After watching two days of racing here most observers already see those on the podium looking it will be familiar territory and there seems to be little between them speed-wise.

Of course it is very early days and, as noted above, there's a long way to go. It should be quite a ride. While there may only be six boats in the fleet they are astonishing machines to be hold and their power if almost frightening.

What makes them appear all the more dramatic is the contrast with the fleet of former Whitbread/Volvo yachts that have gathered alongside for next week's Legends Regatta.

It is a fantastic line up and as with this year's edition the Kiwi influence is all-pervading. Star of the show is Big Red, Peter Blake's Steinlager 2 resplendent in its original livery as is arch rival Grant Dalton's Fisher and Paykel which duelled neck and neck around the world.

They were big boats back in the day but alongside the Volvo 70s they have the air of classic sports cars against a fleet of Hummers.

Regardless the rivers of nostalgia are running deep fuelling the old rivalries that are clearly alive and well. Apparently there are running gags between the sailors from Big Red and F&P with Dalton having to fend off constant sniping over the fact that Steinlager 2 is still the only boat to win every leg of the race.

Whitbread veterans are arriving by the day and it promises to be quite a week ahead of the start of this year's edition.

To read more Martin Tasker opinion click here .