Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

‘We can’t be last into Hong Kong’ – surging Scallywag defies expectations to lead Volvo Ocean Race fourth leg

Skipper David Witt and his fellow sailors make up more than 90 nautical miles to be among the contenders to win the race to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 10:52pm

Hong Kong’s Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag has defied expectations by moving from last into first place in the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race, with skipper David Witt saying they don’t want to sail into their home port in last place.

From 90 nautical miles behind the leader several days ago, Scallywag was marginally ahead at 9pm (Hong Kong time) as the boats emerge from the fickle doldrums.

The Hong Kong boat is now very much in the race to finish first with the seven-strong fleet expected to arrive in Hong Kong from Melbourne for the fourth-leg stopover on January 20.

Team Brunel, overall leader Mapfre, Team AkzoNobel, Dongfeng, Vestas and Turn the Tide on Plastic occupy the next six positions. However, it is still anyone’s boat race on the straight to Hong Kong with speeds expected to increase as they leave the doldrums and try to capture stronger trade winds.

Scallywag’s surge is remarkable given that only eight hours before the last update, they were in last place as Witt and navigator Libby Greenhalgh looked for a passing lane to make their move.

“Everyone is in the same weather pattern and we’re closing up,” said Witt in a video posted by the organisers before he made his move.

“Thirty miles is not a lot with this weather system. But we’re not worried about that, what we’re worried about is trying to find a passing lane between here and Hong Kong.

“Because we can’t finish here [last] coming into Hong Kong.”

Experts had put Scallywag’s initial surge down to the Hong Kong boat still enjoying strong winds while the rest of the fleet was in the doldrums – a region of light and variable winds.

However, Scallywag continued to be the fastest boat even inside the doldrums over the past 24 hours. At 4.54pm, they were travelling at a speed of 5.2 knots, only slower than Brunel’s 6.5 knots. No other boat was faster than 2 knots and it was the first time in two days that Scallywag was not the fastest.

Greenhalgh, who joined the crew after the third leg from Cape Town to Melbourne, is confident Scallywag will be among the leaders when the fleet sails into Hong Kong.

However, at the latest update, they were travelling at 11.9 knots with Dongfeng the fastest at 12.8 knots while Vestas and AkzoNobel were also being pushed by stronger winds.

“There’s about another 250 miles of the light stuff and we’re moving along quite well,” she said. “And if we keep making the gains then we’re in with a shout of being there.”

Although Scallywag was still in last place at 3pm after a slow start from Melbourne, Witt always knew it would take just one move to challenge for the lead.

“There’s 10 miles between first and sixth place so if you pass one, you pass them all in the position that we’re in,” said Witt. “It’s the story of the Scallywag life. It’s all or nothing here at the moment.”

And that is exactly what happened as Scallywag made a sharp move below the rest of the fleet, which went farther east and allowed the Hong Kong boat the room for a shorter route towards Victoria Harbour.

While Witt and Scallywag are enjoying the moment, the doldrums proved to be a difficult time for other boats, including Cape Town to Melbourne winner Mapfre.

“Desperation is probably the only word to describe how we feel sailing through these doldrums,” skipper Xabi Fernandez said.

“Anyway, things are going OK, I guess, sailing on speeds around 2 knots and happy when the heading is inside the 45 degrees from course. It is the same for all of us so we are trying not to complain too much and try to move forward.

“One of these moments a gust will come, then another one, and suddenly we are off, but we have to say, these doldrums are being seriously painful.”