They were followed 71 minutes later by Alec Honey and the crew of Rhone-Poulenc, with Interspray, skippered by Paul Jeffes, lying third.
Rhone-Poulenc later faced a protest because by carrying both their French coach, Lionel Pean, and a journalist (your correspondent), they had exceeded by one the crew limit of 14.
When the boats go round the world the hard way against the prevailing winds, the 28,000-mile Challenge race promises some heavy weather, especially on the two Southern Ocean legs from Rio de Janeiro around Cape Horn and from Hobart to Cape Town.
Yesterday the crews, all of whom are paying to take part in the round the world race, organised by Chay Blyth, who did the same route solo 21 years ago, were offered a south-westerly gale gusting over 40 knots to drive them up the finishing straight of the Solent to Southampton.
The final 24 hours on Rhone- Poulenc, which had led for a good part of the race, had been full of incident. As the wind piped up to between 25 and 30 knots, the crew concentrated harder at the business of winning.
'I'm too excited to want to sleep,' Brian May said at the midnight watch change on Sunday. At that time, more people were brought on deck as the three watches overlapped each other, the standby four joining the on- deck four as the off-watch slept for only two hours.
Every two hours the stand-bys moved up to principal watch and the next stand-bys were woken up to support them. It was when the wind strength increased that the skipper decided to drop the spinnaker, not just because in its patched state the extra pressure was likely to cause further damage, but because they may have to use the same spinnaker in the more important and much longer race around the world.
After suffering expensive damage, and with the other spinnaker wrecked when the halyard which hauls it up the mast had snapped, the trio of Valerie Elliott, retired prison officer Daniel Sailor and property developer Tony Fowler had spent hours laboriously stitching it back together by hand. 'Having supervised mailbags at eight to the inch, I know the drill pretty well,' Sailor said.
Further patch and mend could leave them at a disadvantage to those who have conserved sails with less miles and repairs to affect their future performance, but the price of running, instead, under a poled- out genoa headsail was high.
By the 7am inter-yacht chat show yesterday, when the fleet report their positions to the duty yacht, British Steel had moved steadily into a nine-mile lead. In a last bid to close the gap, and with the wind a little softer at 20 knots, Alec Honey, the skipper, decided to re-hoist the spinnaker.
Misery. Soon the patches began to open up and there was a slight snarl in the hurry to take it down and, for Rhone-Poulenc, the chance of victory was over. British Steel had the race under control and it would have needed a major catastrophe to rob her.
Always in the hunt, their plan had worked perfectly. Putting a substantial tear in the bottom of the mainsail of Rhone-Poulenc when gybing just ahead of The Needles was not part of the plan.Reuse content