It will take a record 20 boats - 10 multihulls and 10 monohulls - 20 days to complete the third biennial race which echoes the 4,500-mile dash from France to Colombia historically undertaken by cargo ships to bring back the new season's coffee beans.
British interest lies in the combination of the 35-year-old Pete Goss and Raphael Dinelli, the 29-year-old Frenchman he heroically rescued from his upturned yacht during the Vendee Globe race.
Goss is again optimistic that he can, with his 50-footer BMW Performance, attack the bigger and theoretically always faster 60ft yachts, who will be his main opposition. The only other 50-footer in the race is entered by another Englishman, Niah Vaughan, with crew Arnet Taylor.
The forecast is for heavy weather crossing the Bay of Biscay, something which Goss says his boat may relish rather more than himself. "I feel good, I feel fit, I just want to get stuck in but I'm sure I'll be seasick for the first 24 hours if there's some wind around," he said. "I usually am."
One of Goss' main adversaries will be Eric Tabarly, the famous Frenchman who has come out of retirement at 63 to team up with Yves Parlier on the radical Aquitaine Innovations.
WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE (first leg, 7,350 miles, Southampton to Cape Town) Latest positions: 1 Innovation Kvaerner (Nor) K Frostad 3,291 miles to finish; 2 Merit Cup (Monaco) G Dalton +18 miles behind; 3 EF Language (Swe) P Cayard +28.5; 4 Silk Cut (GB) L Smith +144; 5 Chessie Racing (US) M Fischer +169; 6 Toshiba (US) C Dickson +336; 7 America's Challenge (US) R Field +371; 8 Swedish Match (Swe) G Krantz +406; 9 EF Education (Swe) C Guillou +580; 10 Brunel Sunergy (Neth) H Bouscholte +595.Reuse content