Saying goodbye

Text by Jonno Turner
Photo by Ian Roman
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Saying goodbye Text by Jonno Turner
Photo by Ian Roman
 
Boats tweaked, food weighed, bags packed.

As 59 sailors and seven Onboard Reporters walked down the dock a year ago today, eyes squinting in the Alicante sunshine, all they had to worry about was saying a final goodbye to their loved ones.

After weeks, months, and in some cases, years of preparing for this round the world marathon, there was nothing more to prepare. The start line was finally in sight.

It was a date that had long been circled on the calendars. In fact, it kind of held a certain mystique. Saturday 11 October 2014. The day they went to sea.

And as dawn broke behind the Santa Barbara Castle, the morning brought thick tension and tangible excitement.

The fans and families packed the Race Village. They came from every far flung corner of the world - many places that, in the nine months to come, these sailors would touch as they circumnavigated the planet.

There were Lithuanians, chanting the name of their hero, Team Brunel's Rokas Milevicius.

Not forgetting a sea of magenta support for Team SCA, and the Neti fans making noise for MAPFRE and Antonio Cuervas-Mons.

"My 2 Olympic medals are pretty special, but the Volvo Ocean Race has been the last chapter of my life. A win would mean a lot," admitted Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Ian Walker, at a pre-start press conference in front of the world's media.

There were plenty of questions to be answered. How would Team Alvimedica fare with the youngest skipper in the race? Was this finally to be Ian Walker's year? Could Team SCA really sustain a challenge against their more experienced male rivals? 

"Someone asked me the difference between our boat and the guys boats," laughed Team SCA skipper Sam Davies.

"The only thing I could think of was sports bras."

Then, the moment came. After all of the interviews, hand-shaking, hugs and kisses, it was time to step onboard.

On your marks, get set, go.

It was a tight battle as the fleet launched into an inshore sprint start, with Team Vestas Wind nudging over the line slightly early and being forced to perform a penalty turn.

The racing remained bow and bow as the boats rounded the marks in front of thousands of delighted fans looking on from the shore.

And then, the last mark complete, the boats faded into the horizon. The leaders? Team Brunel, followed closely by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and MAPFRE.

The land, left behind. Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier tried to put the feeling into words. "The moment you throw the rope, something switches in your mind. It's more than a symbol - you change mode.

“Before the start, you always wonder if you forgot something. Once you leave, you’re in the thick of it and old habits take over.”

What was to follow over the next weeks was a race over 6,000 miles, through the Gibraltar Strait, a battle across the North Atlantic, an Equator crossing and a game of chess with the St Helena High. 

Next stop? Cape Town.

It was exhausting, it was exhilirating, it was epic. And that was just the watching - for the sailors, it quickly became clear that this was going to be a life-changing nine months.