Quadstone beats BP over the line after a day-long tacking duel - now the crew face a nervous wait to see if they'll be penalised for sail damage

The loudest welcome of an eventful day in Buenos Aires was for BT Challenge yachts Quadstone and BP Explorer. In an unprecedented cliffhanger, the two yachts had match raced up the River Plate for 14 hours. Quadstone finally finished this afternoon just seven minutes ahead to take 9th place.

“Twenty-four hours ago we were 24 miles behind,” says Quadstone’s skipper, Alex Phillips. “We made the right call; we stayed upwind.” The two yachts converged on the penultimate mark of the course, the Oye Varde lighthouse, early this morning. Quadstone came in slightly freer on starboard, while Mark Denton’s crew were beating up on port. At the mark, BP was forced to duck Quadstone.

“It was amazing going round together and having to duck after 6,500 miles is incredible,” says Phillips.

The two crews short tacked the remaining 60 miles to the finish line. “It was a complete tacking duel,” says Mark Denton. “To give her credit, she got in front and covered us. Since one this morning, we were covering each other tack for tack. We’d get ahead for an hour, an hour and a half; they’d get ahead for an hour.”

Alex Phillips says the two yachts had different sail combinations as they rounded the Oye Varde light. “We had one reef and the No 2; he had full main and No 1 and he rapidly changed down; Mark pulled off a very, very good sail change. When the breeze dropped we shook out the reef first and they did later, then they changed to a No 1 first and after half an hour we did.”

The two skippers say they tried every legitimate tactic and were sometimes close enough to lee bow other on the beat to the finish. Mark Denton was once mate for Alex Phillips, which sharpened the needlematch. “We know each other really well,” says Phillips. “We’re old adversaries.”

For Mark Denton, the loss of this duel is as disheartening as the loss of one point. “I’m disappointed, but the crew are very disappointed,” he says. He’s not the only one who quietly regrets the result. By coming out ahead of BP, Quadstone stay ahead of them overall, but had it been the other way round, Quadstone, BP and Compaq would all have been equal on cumulative points.

But Alex Phillips’s position is not yet rock solid. She admits that she blew out three of her four spinnakers on this leg. “We had a bad day,” she comments. “It’s nothing to be proud of, but we were pushing hard.”

One of them was the 1.5oz promotional kite – which carries a three-point penalty if it is found to be beyond economic repair. How bad is the damage? “I really don’t know, I just stuffed it in the bag,” Phillips says.

On the same day, they blew out two others. “We had the 0.75oz up and went to the 1.5oz. As soon as it burst its bands, it blew straight out. Then we put the 2.2oz up, which held for an hour and a half and then blew. All three were operator error. We also traced a fault down to not putting enough reinforcement down the tapes from previous repairs.”

For Phillips and her crew, a three-point penalty would be the equivalent of finishing in last place. They must now wait nervously until the sail is assessed by Hood Sailmakers on Monday to discover if the sail can be repaired. Phillips is bullish about it, though: “If Hoods don’t mend it, we will do it ourselves,” she says.