Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

Where is Vestas? Hong Kong’s Scallywag back from stealth mode, still in front but with only a slender lead

The previously second-placed boat also went under the radar and could possibly be a threat to the Hong Kong yacht with less than 500 miles to go

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 9:48pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 10:45pm

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 and re-emerged with their lead cut by more than half.

With with less than 500 nautical miles to the finish line at Victoria Harbour as of 9pm on Wednesday, Scallywag maintained a 37 nautical mile lead over China’s Dongfeng as they sailed between the Philippines and Taiwan but the main question was the whereabouts of Vestas 11th Hour Racing – which was previously in second place and went into stealth mode as well.

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

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 they were able to go three positional updates – each separated by six hours – hidden from their rivals.

However, when they came back on at 9pm on Wednesday, Scallywag was heading towards an area of stronger winds near Babuyan with Vestas – barring an unlikely mishap – almost certainly either not far behind or having overtaken the Hong Kong boat.

Race analysts had earlier questioned whether or not Scallywag’s decision not to gybe earlier would cost them the race. Earlier, before they went into stealth mode, Scallywag crew member Annemieke Bes tweeted “Where o where shall we be”.

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

“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 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.