Alicante - British skipper Ian Walker took the halfway lead in the first leg of the Volvo ocean race from Alicante to Cape Town on Sunday.
Walker and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew were among the favourites in the 2011-12 edition of the race but a broken mast on the first night of the opening leg scuppered his hopes on that stage and dealt him a setback from which he never recovered.
This time, in his third race as a skipper, the two-time Olympic silver medalist has been in contention from the start.
The fleet left Alicante on 11 October and after emerging in front from the windless doldrums two days ago, Walker has led ever since.
The Abu Dhabi team is not assured of a Leg 1 victory, however. Their advantage over second-placed Team Brunel of the Netherlands is only 20 nautical miles, a slim lead on a stage stretching 6 487 nautical miles that the fleet is expected to complete in Cape Town around 6 November.
A Danish crew, Team Vestas Wind, is some 30 nautical miles further adrift in third position.
Dongfeng Race Team of China is fourth followed by joint Turkish-American entry Team Alvimedica, Team SCA of Sweden and Spain's Mapfre.
This year's race is being contested by seven boats and will take nine months to complete, covering about 39 000 nautical miles. It will conclude in Gothenburg, Sweden, in June next year after visiting 11 ports.
The fleet includes an all-women crew, Team SCA, for the first time in 12 years in a race that is generally considered to be offshore sailing's toughest test.