The Barcelona World Race start is the beginning of three months of hard racing, difficulties and challenges for the eight teams taking part

The departure of a short-handed, non-stop round the world race is always highly charged and emotional, and so it was at the start of the Barcelona World Race today. The pairs taking part – and the families they leave behind – cannot be certain what lies ahead, but the sailors know for sure that next three months and 23,450 miles will have times of difficulties, challenges and dangers.

The four-yearly Barcelona World Race began today off the Catalan city and, although a trophy in its own right, is a primer for the Vendée Globe (the next solo round the world race is in 2016). Eyes are on the two favourite teams: Britain’s Alex Thomson racing with Spanish co-skipper Pepe Ribes in Hugo Boss; and the Swiss-French pairing of Bernard Stamm and Jean Le Cam in Cheminées Poujoulat.

The eight duos taking part started in light winds that will make for a tricky, challenging exit out of the Mediterranean and through the Straits of Gibraltar. As per forecast, breezes were only very light for the start, 2-6 knots. But the sun shone brightly and brought out huge crowds to the beaches of the Catalan capital.

The warmth of the sunshine leant an almost surreal air to the emotional scenes as the 16 skippers left the Barcelona World Race dock this morning. Alex Thomson and his four-year-old son Oscar shouted ‘Goodbye’ to each other across the widening gap between the pontoon and the departing IMOCA 60.

Hugo Boss team-mate Pepe Ribes’ farewell to his young son Pepe Ribes Jr was no less touching and GAES Centros Auditivos’skipper Gérard Marin’s son is only a few months old.

The biggest cheer of the morning was for Anna Corbella, the only female skipper in the race. She became the first Spanish woman to sail around the world when she finished the second edition of the Barcelona World Race in April 2011 with Dee Caffari. Corbella and Gérard Marin, both Barcelona locals, have been training for two years with their GAES Centros Auditivos and harbour hopes of a podium finish.

When the gun sounded at 1300hrs local time (1200hrs UTC) GAES Centros Auditivos looked to have made the best start along with Hugo Boss and Renault Captur (Jorge Riechers and Sébastien Audigane), but both GAES Centros Auditivos and One Planet One Ocean Pharmaton (Aleix Gelabeirt and Didac Costa) jumped the gun and had to restart.

Winds might only have been light at the start but the skippers know the pressure is on from the start. The race start sat between two wind zones. To the east the brisk north-eastlery Tramontana is a strong lure. To sail more miles to reach this corridor of breeze does represent the high risk option but potentially with the biggest reward. A fast passage to the Balearics would allow the leader(s) to hold on to this wind longest. Conversely, this breeze will fade first, potentially leaving any gamblers on this flank downwind in very gentle winds. The alternative is to sail the direct, rhumb line – or to the west of it – and wait until the north-easterly has strengthened all the way to the Spanish coast.

The overall balance between the options remained unclear. For sure there is a ‘rich get richer’ scenario for anyone who breaks through the Strait of Gibraltar first, breaching the brisk, favourable trade winds first for quick train ride south. But the greater likelihood is of a period of very light winds in the busy gateway between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.