Overall Volvo Ocean Race leader MAPFRE was at the head of the fleet early as the boats charged up Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay after the race start for Leg 4 to Hong Kong.
But it was a very close run affair, and after one hour of racing, SHK/Scallywag and Vestas 11th Hour Racing were switching out with the Spanish boat for the lead.
Leg 4 is a 6,000 nautical mile race up the east coast of Australia, into the Coral Sea and up north to Hong Kong, marking the first time the Volvo Ocean Race has visited the historic port.
Shortly after the leg start, the wind increased from 10 to near 20 knots with MAPFRE leading Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Team Brunel, Turn the Tide on Plastic and Dongfeng Race Team upwind and out towards the right hand side.
Meanwhile, team AkzoNobel and SHK/Scallywag split hard from the others towards the left. Early indications showed a slight advantage to MAPFRE with skipper Xabi Fernández initially in a favourable position after tacking back towards the turning mark near Mornington.
But Scallywag, perhaps benefitting from the local knowledge of Australian skipper David Witt and new crew member Grant Wharington, and Vestas 11th Hour Racing had soon joined the battle for the lead.
The fleet is expected to face challenging conditions exiting the Bay, with a strong incoming wind facing an outgoing tide and whipping up a short, steep seaway.
But after the exit into Bass Strait, the teams will be able to turn left and head east, in fast reaching conditions for their first night at sea.
“This leg is very difficult and there will be a lot of options open,” Fernández said just before leading his team off the dock.
“We will be pushing the boat hard from the very beginning to move forward… The boat and crew is in good shape, we’ve had a good rest and we’re ready to go again.”
The ETA for Hong Kong will be more certain after the boats clear the Doldrums but is pencilled in for January 20/21.