His face is pricked with needles of salt spray, his voice washed away in the wind.
Behind him, utter chaos. Boats heel on their tiptoes, marks topple sideways, sails fill and stretch - only Cape Town's Table Mountain, collared in fog, stands still.
His teammate Nick Dana trims frantically. “I’ve never quite started a race like this!” he laughs.
A stream of water runs from his soaked hair down onto his forehead, drops jumping one by one off the end of his nose.He grabs a breath, like a battered and bruised boxer, sheltering in the corner.
This is a proper Cape Town farewell. Up to 40 kts of generous, gusting wind, sea spray roaring and reaching out to high five the departing boats.
“That start was some of the hairiest sailing we’ve seen,” writes Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s Matt Knighton.
“Two weeks ago, when Cape Town welcomed us with open arms, we would’ve had no idea that it would send us away with such a fierce goodbye.”
And so the boats race – led by Team Brunel out of Table Bay, but chopping and changing all the way down the southwestern coast of South Africa, as night slowly fell.
The sailors strapped in, and braced themselves, expecting the worst. Every mile, another step into the darkness. Every second, a second closer to the storm.Then, night time came.
And went – without so much as a misplaced gust. Mother Nature was up to her old tricks again.
Morning arrives, and Team SCA’s Stacey Jackson sits on deck in front of a pink and gold, peanut butter and jelly sky.
“Well, the first night is almost over – the sun’s coming up,” she says. “It’s not as windy as we thought it would be, which is nice, and it’s a beautiful day beginning now, so it all starts again.”
At 0700 UTC this morning, the girls led the fleet – but by the next position report, they’d fallen back to fifth place.
“The sun is shining, the water is blue, we’re using all the sails – and it’s quite easy,” smiles Jean-Luc Nélias, sitting at the MAPFRE navigation desk.
There was relief over on Dongfeng, too. “The goal was to be safe,” admits French skipper, Charles Caudrelier.
“We’re not first, but we managed to get out of this without breaking anything – now we can race.”
Except it’s not quite that simple. “You’re always trying to balance fleet management against sailing the weather,” explains Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing navigator, Simon Fisher.
“Some people are more aggressive on one than the other, but getting that balance is really important.”
And it will certainly be important over the next 24 hours, as the fleet is fast approaching the Agulhas Current, off the south coast of Africa.
“It’s one of the three strongest western boundaries in the world,” explained Team Alvimedica’s Will Oxley, yesterday.
“We can see four, even five knots, of wind flowing towards the south - and the wind is coming from the south, which creates standing waves.”Make no mistake - race or not, in this part of the world, you play by Agulhas' rules.
“It’s only about 80 miles wide we think, but it’s still boat breaking conditions, so we really have to be careful," adds Will.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Ian, saw his team sail conservatively leaving South Africa – a move that saw Azzam fall upto 1000 metres behind the leaders at one point.
But he's still confident as ever. “You didn’t hear anyone in Cape Town talking about the start in Alicante,” he reasons.
“We kind of knew the start was going to be pretty irrelevant so we decided to save our gear and cruise around.”
Staring into the horizon, he senses something brewing. Maybe it's paranoia, maybe it's this sea-battered sailor's nose for the weather.
He chuckles. “We feel relaxed…maybe too relaxed.”