Sailing: Little misses out on overall victory

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The Independent Online

Chris Little and his Bounder crew wasted no time in Tasmania last night celebrating an assured win in Class A of the 628-mile Sydney to Hobart Race, but Britain's 34-year wait for another overall victory goes on.

The crew's tense wait to learn if they would become the first British team to win the Tattersalls Cup since Sir Edward Heath lifted the overall prize with Morning Cloud in 1969 ended when First National Real Estate, the Beneteau 40.7 skippered by Michael Spies and Peter Johnson, pipped them on handicap.

Little, the commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, has been on a double mission to Australia. The first, in a chartered 49-footer which was the overall winner in 1999, was to end that 34-year famine. The second was to give every encouragement to the Australians to come back in 2005 and defend the Admiral's Cup, which they won in the Solent in July this year.

The crew, which includes the helmsman Jeremy Robinson, had to hope that the conditions which boosted them over the final few miles and up to the finish in the Derwent River would die away, rather than help their rivals in smaller boats astern. They did, but First National still made it home in good time.

The two 98-foot maxis which had been first to cross the line, Grant Wharington's Melbourne-based Skandia and Stewart Thwaites' Zana from Wellington, New Zealand, knew that their time of two days 15hr 14min, plus 14 minutes for Thwaites, meant they had no chance of winning the top prize on handicap.

Geoff Ross, who previously owned the yacht Little was racing under its new name Bounder, was in contention on his latest 52-footer, Yendis, after finishing 17 minutes before Little.

Little eclipsed the veteran Syd Fischer in Ragamuffin, with whom they spent two days having "a fantastic tussle, literally a match race". Little said that the sail down the Tasmanian coast on his Sydney-Hobart debut had been "brilliant". "We were roaring down the coast at speeds up to 26-knots, under spinnaker, before a north-westerly breeze gusting up to 39-knots," he added.