Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

Why Philippines is the last chance for Volvo Ocean Race fleet to catch Hong Kong’s Scallywag

David Witt and his crew have extended their lead over the other boats but the biggest test of their resolve is still to come

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 5:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 10:32pm

Hong Kong entrant Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag has extended its lead over the Volvo Ocean Race fleet on its way home but faces a major test when the seven boats converge on the top of the Philippines for the final stretch of leg four.

David Witt and his crew were 76.5 nautical miles ahead of Vestas 11th Hour Racing, with Team AkzoNobel and China’s Dongfeng Race Team making up the top four.

Scallywag was the only boat that chose the westerly route as the rest of the fleet went north in search of strong winds as they swept west towards Hong Kong.

And the success of that strategy will only be realised when the fleet bunches up over the Philippines.

“There is a high pressure zone off the coast of China and all the boats that had gone north might be penalised,” said Conrad Colman, a round the world sailor who is part of the team of race experts. “It is expected that Scallywag will still be slightly ahead as they go over the Philippines.”

Having emerged from the doldrums – an area of light winds and hot weather that proved a challenge for most crews – the fleet were travelling at around 19 or 20 knots towards the Philippines.

If Scallywag can maintain a healthy lead after passing the Philippines, the Hong Kong boat has a great chance of being the first to sail into the city.

Scallywag covered more than 500 nautical miles in the 24 hours prior to the 3pm update and have built on their lead. The Hong Kong boat was at one time 90nm behind the fleet but have made amazing gains over the past 10 days.

There was drama on Sunday when Witt was forced to rescue crewman Alex Gough, who had fallen into the water from an outrigger. Gough was uninjured and it cost Scallywag seven minutes but it hardly affected their lead.

Overall leader Mapfre, of Spain, are fifth ahead of Team Brunel and Turn The Tide on Plastic. Mapfre is 172nm behind Scallywag and skipper Xabi Fernandez said it was a case of doing their best with more than 1,500nm to go.

“We’re finally moving properly to the finish line after a tough last week in the doldrums,” said Fernandez, who led his crew to victory in the third leg from Cape Town in South Africa to Melbourne, Australia.

“The doldrums was very hard and punished us way too hard. There was really no wind and it was so hot. We know it’s difficult because there is a lot of distance between us and the leaders but we will keep trying.”

Scallywag has also managed to avoid many of the reefs and atolls that dot the course from Melbourne to Hong Kong, with Team Brunel needing to gybe (change direction) to avoid obstacles.

The fleet is scheduled to arrive at the Kai Tak Terminal in Hong Kong on Friday.