In the early hours a Finnish-born Swede, Ludde Ingvall, skippered a French- built 80-footer, Nicorette, designed in America by the New Zealander Bruce Farr, and crewed by 14 more united nationals, including three women, to a record. He sliced 14 hours and 38 minutes off the time of 12 days, four hours and one minute set in 1905 by the 185ft schooner Atlantic, to set a new time of 11 days 13 hours and 22 minutes.
There is a faster time, achieved by the Frenchman Serge Madoc, of six days, 13 hours and three minutes, but that was in a 75ft catamaran. And two monohulls claim faster times, but the 244ft four-masted Phocea is mechanised and Dennis Conner's Whitbread 60 Winston did not have official timers to ratify a time 20 hours better than Atlantic's.
That had been set because a millionaire called Wilson Marshall decided to try to win a $5,000 gold cup put up by the Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was building his own yacht, Meteor, for the Atlantic race he sponsored. The cup was later found to be pewter with gold plate.
Marshall gave the Scottish-born America's-Cup winner Charlie Barr the job of skippering his toy, a decision he came to regret when Barr piled on more sail to take advantage of a big Atlantic low and drive the boat as hard as he could. Marshall complained. Barr, five feet tall and notoriously belligerent, locked him in his cabin.
Ingvall, a former Whitbread Race skipper, is much more genial but a determined competitor. He also had the benefit of satellite weather scans and routing experts faxing interpretations to the yacht.
He waited for the right sequence of weather systems. And, for the first three days, he was flying along, covering 1,000 of the 3,005 miles and on schedule for a nine-day crossing. But Murphy's Law intervened, and the high pressure which has dominated European weather for the past week produced lighter winds. "When you have lots of wind it's tough, exhilarating, and you are scared all at the same time," said Ingvall yesterday.
"But when you run out of wind, that's the worst ... I'm sure old Charlie was up there trying to pull the strings and stop us."
Ingvall will captain Nicorette in the Round Europe Race in June and then comes to Britain to defend his hold on the 16 Fastnet trophies which he won in Nicorette in 1995.Reuse content