Lawrie Smith's decade old record of two days, two hours and two minutes for the San Fernando race is no more.
Glory now belongs to Benoit Lesaffre and his crew aboard the 50' catamaran Atmosphere who today with just ten minutes to spare, broke the record set in 1991. The new record now stands at two days, one hour & fifty two minutes.
Atmosphere had some very tense moments in the last few hours of their race best summed up by Lesaffre's comment "We sat out there all bloody night going nowhere. Seeing Sam Chan closing on us was very reminiscent of last year's China Sea Race" as they watched Sam Chan's Ffree Fire appear over the horizon and slowly eat into their lead. Ffree Fire - who also broke the old record - crossed the finish line just two and a half minutes behind Atmosphere in what has to be one of the most exciting finishes of a San Fernando Race. As soon as he crossed the finish line, Lesaffre leapt off the helm in a style normally reserved for Frankie Vittori leaping off his winning horse.
After the first 400 miles of the race, predictions were being made Friday night not on whether the record would fall but on just how much Atmosphere would break the record by, however as the wind died in the early hours of Saturday morning and Atmosphere failed to appear on the horizon, these predictions soon turned to whether or not the elusive record might elude her once again.
Atmosphere was sighted as a dot on the horizon a couple of hours after daybreak, but it was another 5 hours before she finally crossed the finish line. What must have been an interminable wait for Atmosphere was made all the more frustrating having Chan's 70' Sled rapidly closing the gap.
It was certainly an intense battle all the way to the finish line between the two boats fighting it out. After 48 hours of racing, the crew of 4 on Atmosphere and of 18 on Ffree Fire would all be tired and had to call on all their reserves to make both tactical and sailing decisions, watching the wind shifts and hoping that their wind would not die.
Ffree Fire's efforts in playing catch up cannot be underestimated. Skipper Sam Chan was quoted after the race as saying that his crew had sailed a very tactical race, staying south of the rhumb line and managing to keep a steady 15 knots of wind over their sails until the last few hours before they ran out of wind.
Maligaya, Andres Sorian's Philippine entry was sailing in view of Ffree Fire early this morning, but may possibly have gone too far north and sailed right into what sailors refer to as a hole, a place where there is literally no wind. It was not until the sun was setting Saturday evening, that the stunning 80' Swan's white & blue striped spinnaker appeared around Poro Point finally finishing at 17:53.
The evening radio schedule has 13 boats all within a 16 miles radius, slowly closing on the finish line, but with about 70 miles still to go. Theses boats, are led by Leon Chan's Tipsy Free and are expected to complete the race in the early hours of Sunday morning, however with the fickle Philippine wind, that prediction may again catch us out. Despite the dying winds, the race has definitely been one of the fastest and exciting San Fernando race of the past decade.