Fortunes were swinging by the hour and behind the ups and downs lurked the weather. Forecasts were right in general but a little slower to happen than had been predicted. That meant that Australia, who had looked as though they would steamroll all over the depleted Italian team and their slender two-point lead, saw Italy come back into contention instead.
The 247 yachts, including the Whitbread Maxis and 60s, enjoyed a sparkling start off Cowes in a brisk breeze which gave full range to the enormous power of the Whitbread boats.
The most impressive early on was Dennis Conner's Whitbread 60, Winston, being skippered by Brad Butterworth. He was chased by Javier de la Gandara in Spain's Whitbread 60, Galicia '93 Pescanova.
Most unhappy was Britain's Lawrie Smith at the helm of the radical Fortuna. The boat struggled to keep up. Not only were all three rival maxis ahead of him, so were the six Whitbread 60s, which are 20 feet shorter. Last night, the 60s and Maxis were still neck and neck, with Pierre Fehlmann's maxi Merit Cup just ahead of Winston.
Behind them came the Admiral's Cup fleet. Graham Walker's 50-foot Indulgence made the best start for Britain, while in the 45-foot division Australia's Great News II set the early pace.
In the 40-footers the steely determination of the whole Italian team was encapsulated by their BravaQ8, skippered by Paul Cayard with another America's Cup skipper, Rod Davis, alongside him, California's Stevie Erikson and, from the Italy's stricken 50-footer Mandrake, Francesco de Angelis.
They had said beforehand they would drive the boat into the ground in their bid to prevent a second successive fall at the last hurdle. But it was Germany's Pinta, not Australia's Ninja, that was giving Brava a hard time last night.
The breeze lasted for longer than expected and it looked as though the lack of a 50-footer would be too much to compensate. But the wind died as the leaders approached Land's End and the game was on again.
Last night Italy's 45-footer Larouge reported a position which not only put her ahead of Great News and all the other 45-footers, but also most of the 50-footers.
The breeze is expected to pick up strongly, but the record of two days, 12 hours, 41 minutes and 21 seconds set by Nirvana in 1985 looked safer yesterday than it had at the start. The battle, as for everyone in the 605-mile race, seems set to continue to the finish in Plymouth.Reuse content