IT WAS party time in Southampton when a carnival atmosphere greeted the return of the world’s toughest yacht race.

Thousands of people gave competitors in the BT Global Challenge a rapturous reception after ten gruelling months at sea when they arrived on June 30, 2001.

And for a race that started and finished in Southampton, it seemed fitting that a Hampshire skipper was involved in a thrilling finish.

Hamble-based Neil Murray, on board Norwich Union, battled for the lead of the final leg, before securing an impressive third place.

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LG Flatron finished first to ensure it was crowned overall race winner.

When the yachts began to arrive at Ocean Village just before 4pm on Saturday it gave the signal for the celebrations to begin.

Champagne flowed freely on the yachts and rock music greeted their arrival in the marina.

Live bands and street performers entertained the crowd over the whole weekend, while a dazzling firework display lit up the night sky.

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With several skippers and crew members hailing from Hampshire, there was a real homecoming spirit with family and friends packing the quayside to catch the first glimpses of their loved ones.

Dozens of people also took to the water themselves to form a colourful flotilla of craft to escort the yachts in the final stages.