Telefonica Blue wins both in port races to take the overall lead. Matthew Sheahan reports

Drawing too many conclusions from today’s in port racing would be risky. During the last Volvo Ocean Race, the boat that sailed around the first inshore course as if she had buckets tied to her transom went on to scorch her way around the world to a runaway victory once she was let off the leash offshore.
Yet even so, it was difficult to ignore the dominance of the Spanish team in the opening day of the 2008/9 Volvo Ocean race as the team ended the proceedings in first and second place overall.
The performance of Telefonica Blue was particularly impressive with wins in both races. In the first race the team skippered by Fernando Echavarri led from the start. In the second they came from behind to overtake Puma on the last downwind leg, appearing to sail faster and deeper than Puma in the light 8 knot breeze.
Whether this gives an indication of things to come is tricky to say at this stage. Last time around Ericsson looked similarly quick around the cans but went on to have serious problems offshore. Yet to have a pair of boats from the same designer, Farr, in the two top slots must surely say something about their light weather performance at least.
While Puma didn’t have the same pace as Telefonica Blue, the team work and boat handling appeared slicker with the crew more polished in tight mark roundings and prepared to push closer to the limit than the Spanish who made conservative spinnaker drops and roundings by comparison. Would such a performance have any bearing offshore?
Perhaps. Handling a Volvo 70 with just 10 crew offshore is demanding, (12 are allowed for inshore racing), to have the confidence and ability to do so on a tight course might have advantages when it comes to quick decisions or late calls when sailing even more short handed when a watch system’s in full swing. Apart from the fact that the Botin Carkeek designed boat appears to have pace, the Puma crew’s confidence could count for a lot offshore.
One surprise however, was to see Ericsson 4 so well down the pack by comparison. A well funded team that has spent more time afloat than any other this time around, a fourth might not be a disaster but does put them on the back foot.
Following the recent jury ruling on her illegal keel, Ericsson 3 was forced to accept a penalty on this race dropping her from 6th to 7th overall by the end of the day.
And for those that thought the former race winner, ABN AMRO One now Delta Lloyd, couldn’t cope with the pace of the modern generation, perhaps today showed that she might not be so far off the pace after all. Perhaps she could have been even further up the field had she not have been involved in a collision with Team Russia at the start of the second race when the Russian Team tried to squeeze into a gap between Delta Lloyd and the committee boat that wasn’t theirs to aim for.
But while such views are large extrapolations from a tiny burst of competition, one fact does stand out. The Volvo Ocean Race 2008/09 now has a leader and in the present standings it’s the Spanish Telefonica Blue team.

Next week sees the start of leg 1 to Cape Town.

Current Points Standing

1. Telefónica Blue (Bouwe Bekking/Iker Martinez) 4 points
2. Telefónica Black (Fernando Echávarri) 3.5 points
3. Puma Il Mostro (Ken Read) 3 points
4. Ericsson 4 (Torben Grael) 2.5 points
5. Green Dragon (Ian Walker) 2 points
6. Delta Lloyd (Ger O’Rourke) 1 point
7. Ericsson 3 (Anders Lewander) 0.5 points*
8. Team Russia (Andreas Hanakamp) 0.5 points

*one point has been deducted from the Ericsson 3 score as per the jury decision number JN04 2 October.