HAMPSHIRE skipper Ian Walker’s crack ocean racing team had the jump on its Volvo Ocean Race rivals last night in a 2,000 mile sprint around Britain.

Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team led the fleet of five Volvo 65 boats by around 30 miles as they began the home stretch of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race.

Abu Dhabi and the four other crews – SCA, Team Campos, Alvimedica and Dongfeng, are using the gruelling race as a warm-up to the 40,000-mile Volvo Ocean Race which starts from Spain in October.

Double Olympic silver-medallist Walker, from Warsash, said despite their slim lead his crew could not afford to relax on the remaining 700 miles of the race. The race started from Cowes on Monday after being delayed a day due to the side effects of Hurricane Bertha.

Race organisers switched the course to go anticlockwise rather than clockwise to minimise the danger to crews from huge seas and violent winds whipped up by the storm.

“The decisive factor in the race so far has been sail selection and timing of sail changes," Walker, right, said.

“Obviously you have got to go the right way, but that all ties in with what sails you want to be on and then you can concentrate on putting the hammer down.

“This has been a really tough race so far, right from the start, but we were all fresh for that.

“The North Sea was non-stop navigational decisions with oil rigs and sand banks on top of heavy conditions and sail changes.

“It is all about ragging it on deck, coping with the non-stop spray and pushing the boat as hard as we can.

“One thing we have seen in this race that we haven’t seen in practice is being so close to the Spanish team - relaxing for just five minutes reflects in a loss.”

As the Daily Echo went to press, Walker’s crew had a 31-mile lead on Spanish crew Team Campos with Chinese team Dongfeng in third another 12 miles behind.

The Americans on Alvimedia were in fourth, almost 100 miles off the pace, with all-female crew SCA led by Hamble’s Sam Davies in fifth a further 30 miles back.

Abu Dhabi is expected to cross the Cowes finish line within the next few days. The five boats will be joined by two others – Team Vestas Wind from Denmark and Brunel from Holland – for the start of the Volvo Ocean Race in Alicante, Spain, in October.