Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

Man overboard: watch the drama as Hong Kong’s Scallywag crew rescues sailor who fell into the water during Volvo Ocean Race

It took seven minutes to find the crew member, but the team are still in the lead as they head for home

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 January, 2018, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 January, 2018, 10:45pm

Hong Kong entrant Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag had a sailor overboard for seven minutes but recovered quickly to maintain their lead in the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race.

“Although [Scallywag’s] advantage remains solid, the past 24 hours haven’t been without incident as a crew member went overboard during a sail change. He was recovered within seven minutes and is reported to be uninjured, with the team resuming racing immediately after the recovery,” race control reported.

Alex Gough went overboard and skipper David Witt is heard saying he would be dead if he hadn’t raised his hand to show the crew where he was. Witt was forced to use the engine to slow down the boat to get to Gough.

“He went out on the outrigger, I was driving, and we went off a big sea and it picked him up threw him off, like a horse,” Witt said.

“The main thing is, we got him back on board. He’s safe. But I think it’s shown everyone how hard it is to see the guy in the water. Even on a sunny day, 18 knots of wind… You wouldn’t want to be doing this in 20 knots in the dark.”

Gough wasn’t wearing a harness or a lifejacket. Witt says he should have been tethered, or at minimum have told the driver what he was doing, before he went outside the lifelines on the outrigger.

“I was pretty stupid, but luckily the guys were on to it. They turned around bloody quickly,” Gough said. “I’m good. I’m fine. It was a bit scary… But off we go again.”

Watch: Alex Gough being rescued by Scallywag crew mates

Meanwhile, the Scallywag boat skippered by Australian Witt continued to lead the seven-boat field, although experts expect the yachts that chose a northerly route over the doldrums have the advantage.

Scallywag, who made up 90 nautical miles to surge from last place to first, chose the short cut by staying south of the fleet but they face lighter winds on their current course as bows point towards Hong Kong.

Boats staying farther north are expected to hit stronger winds and only time will tell if Scallywag’s decision to choose a shorter route will give them the advantage over boats that opted for greater distance but stronger winds.

“While that northern option may turn out to be the correct one, Witt and his crew have managed to craftily cut the corner, turning west before the rest of the fleet and gaining valuable miles towards the finish,” said race control in their report.

“The weather has helped us for sure,” Hong Kong resident Witt said. “It’s a balance between making decisions based on what the weather files tell you and what you can see in front of you.

“Anything can happen, it’s a pretty volatile situation still, but I’m pretty sure this group of people can deal with whatever happens.”

Teams are now cruising along after a nightmarish trek across the doldrums – an area of light winds and hot conditions – with boats travelling at more than 20 knots.

Scallywag were going at 22.8 knots at 3pm Hong Kong time, 18.7 nautical miles ahead of Team AkzoNobel with China’s Dongfeng in third. They were followed by Vestas 11th Hour Racing, overall leader Mapfre, Turn The Tide on Plastic and team Brunel.

Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier is confident his boat has a chance of winning the Melbourne to Hong leg.

“I think we are in a strong position,” said Caudrelier. “We have just left the doldrums and we should be the first ones to catch the trade winds … we hope.

“We are very close on the ranking with Scallywag but we prefer our position for the future.”