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HKSAR 20th Anniversary

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Scallywag proud to represent Hong Kong in thrilling Volvo Ocean Race

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 November, 2017, 9:00am

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Hong Kong’s flag fluttered in the breeze at both the sun-splashed Spanish seaport of Alicante and in Tsim Sha Tsui on October 22 – the day that seven identical 65-foot yachts set off on the arduous round-the-world Volvo Ocean Race (VOR).

As the boats prepared to set off from Spain – where the race village featured home flags from all competing teams – a countdown party was in full swing at Ocean Terminal to mark the start of the gruelling 8-month test of stamina, courage and seamanship.

Dozens of fans attended a live video chat with Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag and its Hong Kong-based Australian skipper, David Witt, who is proud to be representing his adopted home-town of Hong Kong in the race.

Witt and his Scallywag crew are making history as the first Hong Kong team in the race – while Hong Kong is also making its debut as a Stopover port in the race’s 44-year history. The team is backed by financial services company Sun Hung Kai & Co, and in particular the company’s group executive chairman Lee Seng-huang who is a keen sailor.

The Hong Kong Stopover is a major event celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) supported by the Home Affairs Bureau and the Hong Kong Sailing Federation. Brand Hong Kong is proud to be a supporting organisation of Team SHK Scallywag.

The race goes back to 1973 with the start of the Whitbread Round the World Race. Held every three years, each edition covers tens of thousands of nautical miles over eight to nine months. It is regarded as the pinnacle of endurance sailing – and a dream of sailing fanatics. The 2017-18 edition of the VOR is the longest yet, covering 45,000 nautical miles.

Hong Kong’s Tiger Mok, a Scallywag team member, summed it up: “The Volvo Ocean Race is something we have dreamt of for many years,” he told the countdown crowd at Tsim Sha Tsui during a live-cross from the Scallywag Team Base in Spain. “It’s a mixed feeling and an emotional time for the crew. We have done a lot of preparation, and we’ll give it our best shot.

“We made sure the boat and equipment are all in good working order... Then we began a range of tests to decide on the best possible combination of [different tools and parameters].”

Despite his experience, Mok is under no illusion at the enormity of the task: “We have to keep improving ourselves throughout the race. It’s a long journey ahead.”

Come mid-January, the inspirational mission of Team SHK Scallywag will truly hit home when Hong Kong residents and visitors witness the arrival of the VOR65 canting keel yachts at the end of the fourth leg from Melbourne.

Hong Kong is a key stopover and the fifth of 12 stages stretching across vast expanses of open ocean and touching six continents.

The Scallywaggers have already traversed some 5,000 nautical miles to prepare for the race. Skipper Witt believes the team will benefit from a hometown advantage during the Hong Kong Stopover. “We’d be very disappointed if we don’t win the Hong Kong In-port Race and Round the Island Race,” he says.

For years, Witt has skippered the supermaxi Scallywag – previously known as Ragamuffin. To meet the current arduous challenge, he has assembled a crew of closely bonded members who are all seasoned sailors with superb nautical skills.

As a professional competitive sailor, Witt prefers a trim team on board because, with a smaller crew, his boat will be less burdened with food and water. Race regulations allow different combinations of male-female crew members, and Witt’s sole woman crew member is Annimieke Bes, an Olympic silver medallist from Holland.

The 2017-18 race is the second edition since a major change in competition format was implemented in 2014-15 to make all the yachts an identical design. This means the race is truly a test of skill, stamina, and sailing knowledge. As such, it is believed that winning margins will be slim and that tactics will play a significant role in the final rankings.

Here in Hong Kong, people of all ages learnt more about the VOR at the countdown event.

Those unfamiliar with the race were impressed by a photo exhibition titled “24 Hours on Board”, showcasing 24 images captured over a 24-hour period on boats in the 2014-15 edition.

That Hong Kong will be stopover city is considered by those in the know as a huge accomplishment. Charlie Manzoni, Vice-President of the Hong Kong Sailing Federation, said: “The Volvo Ocean Race is a huge undertaking. Many people around the world spend a long time in order to help bring it together. I’m delighted that [the federation] is able to bring it to Hong Kong for the first time ever, largely thanks to the massive support of the HKSAR Government.”

Being a key stopover – where both the Victoria Harbour In-port Race and the Round Hong Kong Island Race can be watched at close range – also carries an important added message: that everyone in Hong Kong can join with others round the world to help keep the beautiful oceans clean for future generations.

SHK’s Lee says he hopes to promote competitive sailing in Asia while building a long-lasting sailing legacy in the region.

Even before the race started, it has become a special event for the community. The Hong Kong Sailing Federation and the Home Affairs Bureau will arrange a school visit programme during the Hong Kong Stopover, while 450 volunteers have already signed up to help.

For two weeks between January 17 and 31 next year, the public can enjoy (free of charge) the Hong Kong Race Festival at Kai Tak Runway Park, where everyone will have a chance to see the boats close up and experience the cramped confines of a VOR 65 in a full-size replica that has been split down the middle for public education and access.

For the sailing buffs, the Boatyard, a specialised area where the yachts are maintained, is also expected to be open to the public and should not be missed.

The teams are now preparing to leave Lisbon on November 5 for the start of Leg 3 to Cape Town in South Africa. It is then onto Melbourne, after which the teams will head to Hong Kong.

The people of Hong Kong have every reason to feel proud of being part of the Volvo Ocean Race – as a stopover port and with a team in the race, which is dubbed the “Everest of Sailing”.

Race followers can stay informed of the latest news from on-board reporters by visiting the race website (www.volvooceanrace.com), as well as BrandHK’s dedicated page following Scallywag: www.brandhk.gov.hk/html/en/Volvo.html.