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Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

Scallywag skipper David Witt confident ahead of equatorial crossings during Volvo Ocean Race

The Hong Kong representative is in last place among the seven-boat fleet less than three days after leaving Lisbon on the second leg

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 10:53pm

Skipper David Witt will be hoping his crew’s experience in unpredictable weather will help Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag play catch-up with the rest of the Volvo Ocean Race fleet as they approach the “Doldrums” off the west coast of Africa.

The Hong Kong representative was in last place among the seven-boat fleet less than three days after leaving Lisbon in Portugal on the second leg towards Cape Town in South Africa – a 7,000 nautical-mile journey.

It is one of four long legs in which the fleet will cross the equator and Australian Witt is confident his experience in places such as the fickle Derwent River at the end of the Sydney to Hobart race will give them an advantage.

“For me the most challenging part of the race is going across the equator four times,” said Witt. “I actually think that’s going to be the biggest challenge. That can be the most frustrating place on the planet.”

When asked why his crew would relish the challenge, Witt said: “Simply because we’ll be the best on that leg than all the other teams. Our guys will be awesome. Because we’re experienced, we’ve got the best drivers and we’ve got the best seaman out of the teams.”

Scallywag finished fifth in the first leg from Alicante, in Spain, to Lisbon in a race won by US-Denmark boat Vestas 11th Hour Racing.

Spain’s Mapre was second ahead of China’s Dongfeng with Dutch boat AkzoNobel fourth. Scallywag finished ahead of Team Brunel, from the Netherlands, and United Nations entry Turn the Tide on Plastic.

By Thursday, the fleet is expected to hit the part of the west coast of Africa known as the Doldrums around the equator area where two trade winds meet and is known for thunderstorms, light winds, rain and sudden gusts.

The first boat to exit the Doldrums will be able to make a fast getaway against those still struggling inside the zone.

“The big difference between our teams and all the other teams is a lot of them are all bigger names in sailing than we are, but they may or may not have sailed together before and ... while they can put the team down on paper and it looks fantastic, all the guys I’m going with, we’ve been sailing together week in week out for the last 10 years,” said Witt.

The Derwent River is well known in Sydney to Hobart yachting lore for its Jekyll & Hyde characteristics – at times sending howling winds to aid boats’ run to glory in the final stretch and then suddenly falling dead silent with glasslike water leaving frustrated crews stranded with the finish line in sight.

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Witt benefited from the river’s good side when Scallywag finished third in the 2016 race – with the first three finishers doing so in record time. The next three were also on course to break the record but the wind decided to stop howling just as the finish line loomed.

The equator is even more unpredictable, said Witt.

“It’s like the Derwent on steroids. And we’ve got to do it four times, so if you got that really wrong four times in a row, you’ve got no chance. If you could get it right, if you could get it three out or the four or something, you’d be the race winner.

“And I haven’t heard anyone talk about that too much. I actually think the Southern Oceans are for us the easiest legs because of who we are. You’ve got four crossings, which means you’ve got four legs all based around one very variable tough place.”

The second equatorial crossing is on January 2 – the fourth leg of the 11-leg race – from Melbourne to Hong Kong, a distance of 6,000 nautical miles.

On February 7, the fleet takes off on a 6,100nm journey from Hong Kong to Auckland – the sixth leg – with the last equator challenge starting on April 22, a 5,700-race from Itajai, in Brazil, to Newport, Rhode Island in the United States.