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Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

Hong Kong boat Scallywag’s lead cut in half in Volvo Ocean Race as they switch off radar in the dash for home

David Witt and navigator Libby Greenhalgh finally decide to follow the fleet and gybe but lose more than 40 miles before going into stealth mode

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 11:58am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 1:41pm

Hong Kong’s Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag added an intriguing twist to the final stages of leg four of the Volvo Ocean Race as they went into stealth mode after their lead was cut by almost half with less than 700 nautical miles to the finish line at Victoria Harbour.

David Witt and his crew had stubbornly pursued a more northerly course when they led by 90nm from Vestas 11th Hour Racing but as they headed for the Philippines, the other boats decided to gybe to take a lower route.

Scallywag was the only boat to maintain a largely straight path that helped them maintain a healthy lead. However, the winds were definitely stronger to the south and it was just a matter of time before the Hong Kong boat would gybe to catch those faster gusts.

And when they eventually did, their lead rapidly narrowed until Vestas was only 45nm miles behind. That was when Witt decided to knock out the radar and go into stealth mode, which means Scallywag’s position will not be revealed until Friday morning or when they are within 200 miles of the finish line – whichever comes first.

Race analysts had earlier questioned whether or not Scallywag’s decision not to gybe earlier would cost them the race. Hong Kong fans now face a tense wait until Friday morning (7am HK time) to find out if the gamble paid off.

It’s anyone’s guess and even Scallywag crew member Annemieke Bes tweeted “Where o where shall we be”.

Earlier, Scallywag navigator Libby Greenhalgh said that the rest of the seven-strong fleet failed to gain much of an advantage by gybing earlier.

“For the last three days the routings have been desperate to gybe south but they have also failed to capture the reality of the wind we are actually in, all the manipulation you can do to the grib [weather] files still result in the routings wanting to gybe south,” she had said.

“But who is going to do it? Well it wasn’t us. So far as we expected the gybes have been a loss and the teams haven’t set up much past our line so not really gained any leverage to pull back the distance.

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More defensive on the fleet near them than attacking us.”

Also going into stealth mode was Team AkzoNobel. China’s Dongfeng had emerged from stealth mode in second place, 29nm behind Vestas – having lost 12 miles – and ahead of overall leader Mapfre, Team Brunel and Turn The Tide on Plastic.

Boats on stealth mode can still receive position reports on their rivals every six hours but their own positions will not be published.

When the fleet left Melbourne, Australia on January 2, Scallywag initially struggled as they fell more than 90nm behind the fleet. However, they fought back brilliantly by taking a narrower course around the northeast of Australia and Solomon Islands until they passed their rivals and established a solid lead.

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Witt had said that it would be “catastrophic” if Scallywag sails into Hong Kong in last place and he wanted nothing less than victory into the boat’s home port. The next 24 hours will be crucial if his dream is to be fulfilled.