Predictions of the BT Global Challenge’s closest finish yet came spectacularly true in Sydney yesterday when BP Explorer stole ahead of LG FLATRON to take 1st place by only 25 seconds. The morning’s cliffhanger had begun with Logica in front of FLATRON and BP as they entered the Heads, but FLATRON overhauled Logica before doing a poor gybe and having the lead wrested away in turn by BP.

This is a popular result, making winners of Mark Denton’s crew on BP for the first time yet not depriving Conrad Humphreys and crew on FLATRON of their overall 1st place. In fact, every aspect of this finish could have come straight from the scriptwriters: close action in the shadow of Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the victors able to celebrate a genuinely heartwarming triumph over adversity. Denton’s crew had been detained in Buenos Aires at the start of the last leg when their entire diesel supply was found to be contaminated. The delay was enough to prevent them getting back into the race for the rest of that leg, but although were long faces at the time it hardened into determination to show their true form between Wellington and Sydney. This they have done decisively.

“We always knew we were fast and we have a lot of talent on the boat,” said Mark Denton. “After the disappointment of Buenos Aires we did have something to prove and we did [prove it]! I never thought we’d manage to get past FLATRON in those last miles. The level of competition has been huge on this leg; I have had very little sleep these past few days. It was a tough one!”

The excitement of the final skirmish will also dilute the misfortune of the collision at the start, which put the two yachts involved, Quadstone and Save the Children, back in port. Quadstone later retired from the leg and Save the Children is awaiting a decision about redress from the international jury.

Jeremy Troughton and his crew on Logica are not so delighted by the result, either, though for less serious reasons. They finished 3rd behind FLATRON by just four minutes. “It was a fantastic welcome with all the Logica families out on the water to greet us,” Troughton says of passing the Heads. “We came around the corner and were ahead, we then sailed to a stop and when the chasing yachts rounded the corner they sailed to a stop, too. Sadly for us, the wind caught them first. We were only five or six boatlengths away from the leaders, but it’s been like that all the way across: a fantastic leg with very light winds but ultimately frustrating to have a win snatched away.” They will have to console themselves with a 3rd place, their best result to date.

Will Oxley, one of two Australian skippers, would dearly have liked to win this leg but had to make do with 4th. He admitted that the leg had been “a battle”. Nevertheless it is a solid result which preserves his position in 2nd place overall.

That leaves the crews of Save the Children and Quadstone to ponder where they might have been in this barnstorming leg. While their boats were being repaired, most took up the offer of return tickets to Sydney to see the rest of fleet finishing, and had the bittersweet experience of cheering the others in from the shore.

The combination of fortunes and misfortunes has compacted the overall results table. Half the fleet is now separated by a mere two points and although 1st overall by the end of the race would be a long shot for this group, almost anything else is possible.

In Wellington, repairs are well underway on the two damaged boats. Work on Quadstone is expected to be finished in time for her to leave for Sydney this weekend. As for Save the Children, Challenge Business project director Andrew Roberts, who has been managing the repairs, says: “the aim is to get her ready by the 9th.” This means the crew will miss the restart from Sydney on 11 March and will therefore be unable to compete in the next leg to Cape Town, but the addition of a waypoint in the Tasman Sea will allow