Gentle winds urged the first five yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race out of Wellington Harbour on Sunday in a tranquil start to the fourth and longest leg through the southern ocean and around Cape Horn to Rio de Janiero.
The warm weather and light winds which attended the start, attracting hundreds of spectator craft onto the water, were a deceptive prelude to the 12,400km leg which will take the yachts into the ice-strewn reaches of some of the world's most remote waters.
The Spanish yacht Movistar, which won the 2,000km third leg from Melbourne by nine seconds from the overall race leader ABN AMRO One of the Netherlands, took a penalty for making hull repairs during the short stopover in Wellington and started two hours after the fleet.
The start gun sounded at 2.30pm local time, 30 minutes later than planned because of shipping movements, and Pirates of the Caribbean, helmed by American Paul Cayard, sprang to an early lead.
"These boats are high tech and we are getting better and better every day," Cayard said prior to the start.
"We are getting stronger. We have momentum," he said. "This is the toughest leg of the race, but this is what the race is all about. We're all looking forward to getting to Rio."
The yachts beat across the harbor, jostling with spectator craft, then worked through the narrow harbor entrance before beginning their plunge deep into southern latitudes.
Torben Grael, the world's most successful Olympic sailor who helms Brasil 1, said he and his crew were looking forward to the leg which will return them to their homeland.