The Volvo Ocean Race fleet ghosted into the city's port under the cover of darkness having completed the Prologue leg – a warm-up race from Lisbon to Alicante that served as their final offshore training session before the start of Leg 1 in just ten days.
After four tough days at sea the sailors were exhausted but buzzing to finally have made it to the home of the Volvo Ocean Race.
“It feels real now, we're actually here... the Volvo Ocean Race is happening,” said a grinning Dee Caffari, the British skipper of Turn the Tide on Plastic.
Bragging rights went to Xabi Fernandez's MAPFRE crew after they stole a jump on the fleet early in the leg, and managed to defend a narrow lead for the final 48 hours over Team Brunel.
Although the Prologue was effectively a practice race, Fernandez couldn't have been happier with his team's performance.
“It's a very important moment for us,” he said. “There's ten days to go until Leg 1, and we've been waiting for this moment for quite a long time. We had a very good battle with Brunel in the Prologue. I'm happy with the team, happy with the job we've done and happy to be in Alicante.”
They local favourites were soon joined on the pontoons by Bouwe Bekking's Team Brunel, who opted for the same coastal route that shot the two teams into an unassailable lead.
“All in all we sailed really well - we had a plan and we stuck to it,” said Bekking, the Volvo Ocean Race's most experienced sailor who is returning for an eighth time. “We've made huge steps as a team, and that's what the Volvo Ocean Race is about.”
Behind the two leading teams an intense battle raged for the remaining place on the podium, one that was won by Simeon Tienpont's team Akzonobel who snuck over the line ahead of Turn the Tide on Plastic and Vestas 11th Hour Racing.
“It was hard at the beginning to see MAPFRE and Brunel sail off, but that's how the cookie crumbles sometimes,” said Tienpont. “We were left with the rest of the group and we had a wicked race on our hands. It just showed how cool it is to race these one design boats. We really enjoyed it and we were really happy to beat the other guys to the podium. It has given us great confidence to take into the real race.”
The boat-on-boat action of the Prologue not only had race fans glued to the tracker but gave the teams a precious final opportunity to measure up their rivals before the event proper gets underway.
“It was good to be in the peleton and battling it out,” said Charlie Enright, skipper of Vestas 11th Hour Racing. “It's about mind games, working out who's going to do what when, because manoeuvres are expensive when the boats are all this close.”
Dongfeng Race Team and Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag rounded off the leaderboard in sixth and seventh respectively.
The teams have just one day to get some much-needed rest and prepare their boats before they go head to head in the first points-scoring opportunity of the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race – Saturday's Alicante In-Port Race.