Breathtaking victory takes Atmosphere to new record

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 April, 2001, 12:00am

Benoit Lesaffre's Atmosphere grabbed line honours in the San Fernando Race with a record-breaking sail that eclipsed Lawrie Smith's decade-old mark of two days, two hours and two minutes.

The 50-foot catamaran Atmosphere set a new standard of two days, one hour and 52 minutes after enduring a tense last few hours with Sam Chan's Ffree Fire.

Ffree Fire, in second place, also broke the old record as only 2.5 minutes separated the top two boats.

Lesaffre was elated that his boat had beaten the record and the fast-approaching 70-foot sled Ffree Fire.

'We sat there all night going nowhere. Watching Sam Chan closing in on us was very reminiscent of last year's South China Sea race in which Ffree Fire appeared over the horizon,' said the Frenchman. Ffree Fire didn't win the South China race after she had to retire with rudder problems. The race was won by Beau Geste.

In one of the most exciting finishes in the history of the San Fernando Race, Lesaffre's crew kept Ffree Fire at bay with a steady sail to the finish.

The Frenchman leapt off the helm in celebration - almost in the same manner as superstar jockey Frankie Dettori would leap off his winning horse - as his catamaran finally hit the finish line.

After the first 400 miles, wind conditions made it possible for Atmosphere to break the record. It wasn't so much a case whether it would break the record, rather by how much.

But Atmosphere had to call upon its reserves in making crucial tactical decisions as it neared the finish.

The wind died yesterday morning and Atmosphere was sighted on the horizon a couple of hours after daybreak, but it was another five hours before she finally crossed the line. Chan said his crew had sailed a 'very tactical' race and was able to keep a steady 15 knots before the winds died.

Maligaya, Andres Soriano's Philippine entry, finished third after going too far north and sailing into a 'hole'.

The rest of the fleet is expected to hit the finish line early this morning with Tipsy Free leading the beaten brigade.