Conrad Humphreys and his crew on LG FLATRON crowned their victory in the BT Global Challenge this afternoon by winning the final leg for a convincing 1st place overall. They entered the western Solent this morning in 3rd place, behind Norwich Union and Team SpirIT, but in some of the most exciting racing yet in what has been an intensely competitive and closely fought event, managed to steal first place on the beat back from the eastern Solent. They won the leg by just three minutes and five seconds.

The following places were settled by similarly small margins. Nine of the 12 yachts finished within 39 minutes of each other. The closest battle was between Olympic Group and Compaq, which took 4th and 5th places a mere 27 seconds apart.

The stage was set overnight as the fleet was sent on a series of series of short legs to EC2 buoy, back to the Isle of Wight and to Poole Bar Buoy. The decision to delay the fleet to stage manage a 1400 finish in Southampton Water may have seemed contrived a few days ago, but was vindicated today by some truly spectacular close quarters racing.

Norwich Union had a quarter mile lead over Team SpirIT and LG FLATRON this morning as they passed Hurst Point. As the three yachts sluiced downwind under spinnaker on the last of the ebb, spectator boats churning white water ride either side of them, LG FLATRON broke away for the island shore to catch the first of the flood close in on the island shore. The tactic did not quite pay off, but by Cowes the three were separated by only boatlengths.

Past Prince Consort buoy, Norwich Union luffed Team SpirIT and for a moment it looked as if LG FLATRON would sail past on the outside. But the three yachts ran down in the same order towards Bob Kemp buoy. There, LG FLATRON made a slicker gybe and a tighter mark rounding, putting them to weather of Team SpirIT on the leg across to Lucas buoy, on the opposite shore. During this short reach they overhauled Team Spirit.

On the beat back up to Spanker buoy, Humphreys and his crew on LG FLATRON inexorably reeled in Norwich Union. It had a feeling of inevitability about it. Norwich Union was the more pressed with No 1 yankee, while LG FLATRON had gone for their No 2. Conrad Humphreys has been asserting for more than half of this race that a more conservative choice of sails has helped him sail the boat flat and fast, and here was a chance to see first-hand how that works. Immediately, he was climbing higher and with more pace. It took over five minutes for Norwich Union’s crew to get on the rail, but LG FLATRON had weight to weather in less than one minute.

By the time Norwich Union tacked over to the island side on the beat to spanker, their lead was squandered. FLATRON hooked into Bramble Bank and tacked over to the main flow to make another five or six boatlengths. Considering that they might be vulnerable in softer spots, they hoisted their flanker for the short reach up to Southampton Water. “That was probably the race winner,” commented Humphreys. “The others hadn’t thought that far ahead.”

If LG FLATRON’s crew were ecstatic at a leg win that typified everything they’ve achieved in this race, falling at the final hurdle was a bitter blow for Neil Murray of Norwich Union. His crew had managed to let 2nd place slip, too. “They [LG FLATRON] were pointing a bit higher and Team SpirIT got the better of us by pointing higher,” he said, sounding positive but looking crushed. It was, he added: “great racing, very exciting. The racing in the Solent was incredibly close and it was a course that required a lot of tricky manoeuvres. Spinnaker gybes in such close proximity were amazing. It was really good competition and we’ve enjoyed it.”

Conrad Humphreys agrees. “To finish within minutes of each other is a hallmark of what the BT Global Challenge has been all about,” he commented.

For Will Oxley, skipper of Compaq, in 2nd place overall and keenly hoping to make the places he needed to tak