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ALICANTE, Spain, (Reuters) - A storm was lying in wait for the Volvo Ocean Race s seven-strong fleet as the nine-month marathon offshore event was launched on Saturday.

Race forecasters warned the 66 sailors taking part that heavy rain and strong winds would greet them on day one of the 36,739-mile voyage around the world that begins with an Atlantic crossing to Cape Town, via the Mediterranean, expected to take around three weeks.

The warning evoked memories of the start of the last edition in 2011 when two boats were forced to quit on day one after suffering crippling damage during an electrical storm in the Mediterranean.

This time a new one-design boat that is built for durability has been introduced for all the teams.

A Dutch crew, Team Brunel, led by 51-year-old skipper Bouwe Bekking was the first to set sail from Alicante.

They face opposition from teams from Spain, Abu Dhabi, the United States/Turkey, Denmark, China and Sweden.

The latter, Team SCA, is the first all-women crew to contest the event in 12 years.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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