THE notoriously fickle weather conditions off the Philippine coast yesterday conspired to deny both Stormvogel and Millennium an opportunity to break the 10-year-old China Sea Race record. Stormvogel, a 73-foot ketch owned by Italian businessman Ermanno Traverso, at one stage looked like finishing as much as nine hours under maxi Nirvana's record of 79 hours, 23 minutes and 13 seconds. But when the ketch closed the Philippine coast just south of the fishing port of San Fernando yesterday, the 14-knot north, northeasterly breeze steadily petered to seven knots. In the 10 hours between yesterday's morning and afternoon schedule, Stormvogel's progress had slowed from a flying average of 8.8 knots to around four. The dramatic change in conditions opened the door for former Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club commodore Frank Pong to close the gap and seize a slender lead aboard his new hi-tech Whitbread 40, Millennium. Millennium employs a revolutionary shifting water ballast system which can be completely drained from the boat in light conditions. It would appear that Pong is taking advantage of his boat's versatility in a range of weather conditions to haul in the bigger and heavier ketch. At last night's position fix, Millennium was one mile ahead of Stormvogel with 61 miles still to travel, but with Manila Bay to be negotiated, line honours remained wide open between the leading pair. Stormvogel had built a lead of as much as 23 nautical miles in the middle stages of the 650 nautical-mile haul from Hong Kong to Manila. As the leaders battle the variable inshore conditions, the remainder of the 43-strong fleet are closing the gap as they continued to exploit the stronger breezes offshore. Vida, a 51-foot Beneteau campaigned by Manila Yacht club member Ray Ordoveza, is locked in a tight battle for third place on the water with Keith Jacobs Dubois 43, Bimblegumbie. Bimblegumbie had eked out a two-mile lead over Vida on Saturday night but by yesterday afternoon, Vida was back ahead, three miles clear. Fifth on the water last night, still 100 miles from the finish, and 39 miles behind Millennium was Henry Thornton's J-44, J-Hawk which is making its debut in Asian waters. Snapping at J-Hawk's stern is Dr Ian Nicholson's Banner 41, Intrigue, a mere mile astern. The fleet is continuing to bunch as the back-markers close on the leaders. A distance of only 141 nautical miles separates Millennium from Lax, a 35-footer in last position. While the battle for line honours is clearly a race-in-two, the handicap picture is much more confused. Vida, a clear leader under CHS during the early and middle stages of the race, yesterday plunged to ninth. But another Filipino craft, the Macintosh 47 Kalayaan II, confounded the experts by taking over the running on corrected time. ''Kalayaan wasn't one of the boats we had even considered for handicap honours in CHS,'' a race official admitted last night. Second is the IMX 38 Wizard owned and helmed by China Sea Race veteran, Steve Ellis. Ellis is shooting for a handicap double in CHS and IMS, the class for racing craft. Race officials have not monitored progress in the IMS division but it is clear that Wizard is sufficiently well placed in CHS to be in the running for the double. Third in CHS is another outsider, also from the five-strong Filipino entry in the race. Enamorado, a Tatoosh 42, shot up the standings on corrected time as the fleet headed down the coast of Luzon Island to Manila Bay. Local knowledge of the coastal conditions is clearly coming into play. Dr Y. K. Szeto and his all-Chinese crew aboard the Alan Warwick-designed 46-footer, Tipsy Too, have continued to maintain their corrected time advantage in PYS from William Ho's Concept 44, Tomoe 5, and the Tayana 52, Tehani.