Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

‘How good was that!’ David Witt brings Hong Kong’s Scallywag home for a historic victory in Volvo Ocean Race

Australian and his crew sail into Kai Tak Terminal after a miraculous victory in the fourth leg from Melbourne to Hong Kong, turning a 90-mile deficit into unlikely glory

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 2:11am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 3:09am

Skipper David Witt’s prayers were answered but truth was when Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag sailed into Victoria Harbour and to a historic victory in the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race in the early hours of Saturday morning it was thanks to sheer human talent.

“How good was that?” Witt said soon after Scallywag crossed the finish line. “It’s pretty hard to describe the feelings. So happy for the team bosses ... we did it brother. All friends and supporters are here in Hong Kong. It doesn’t get better than this. Look at Hong Kong harbour tonight. Fantastic!”

He added: “No one gave us a chance and the only ones who gave us a chance was us and we’re going to keep getting off the floor and keep doing this.”

“This is going to mean a lot to a lot of different people but the most important for us is the team owners. We are a privately owned team and Mr Lee Seng Huang has been great. Not just the money but his passion and enthusiasm and his vision for what he wants to do for sailing in Hong Kong and Scallywag globally is very special.

“He deserves this and we are proud of be part of the team to make his vision come true. Winning is massive for Scallywag going forward.”

Vestas 11th Hour Racing, meanwhile, was heading for second place but reported that they had been in a collision with another vessel with about 30 miles to go. It allowed China’s Dongfeng Race Team to overtake Vestas. A statement from Volvo Ocean Race organisers said all crew aboard Vestas were safe and no other details were available.

Other boats due to finish were Team AkzoNobel, Mapfre, Team Brunel and Turn The Tide on Plastic.

At Victoria Harbour, there was excitement when Scallywag was first seen coming into Hong Kong. “Scallywag has been spotted. Repeat. Scallywag has been spotted,” was the first tweet that went out as the Hong Kong boat entered local waters, brining an end to an epic 6,000 nautical mile race in which Witt’s boat went from also-rans to worthy winners.

“There were times when they were absolutely nailed to the cross, at times 100 miles behind the fleet,” said race control expert Conrad Colman. “They showed that there are other ways in which to win a race.”

Vestas was about 30 miles behind Scallywag as the Hong Kong boat crossed the finish line with Dongfeng close behind in third.

Their victory was even more spectacular with Witt revealing that they had lost their J0 sail, which helps the boat’s ability to surf, in the Southern Ocean.

“We did it with a sail short,” said Witt. “We lost the J0 sail in the Southern Ocean and apart from lost a guy overboard, had navigation issues. Everybody just takes it on the chin and doesn’t blame anyone and that’s one of the best things about this team.

“Keeping morale up isn’t a problem. We pick character first and then sailing ability and that’s how we face adversity.”

Witt had earlier issued a plea for prayers for help from Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag’s local fans as Hong Kong’s entrant in the round-the-world race prepared to stave off the challenge of a field that was threatening and closing fast.

“There’s a few people who’d be having heart attacks if they knew how close it was,” Witt had said earlier on Friday. “We are in front, we are leading, but it’s really close. The others don’t realise how close it is.”

Scallywag had staged a remarkable recovery across the 6,000 nautical mile trip up from Melbourne after starting the fourth leg of this edition of the famous race fifth out of the seven yachts involved – and then drifting as far as 90 nautical miles behind the leaders at one stage.

Some audacious decisions from the team’s brains trust had seen them leave their rivals in their wake in the sail into Hong Kong – but still Witt had his concerns.

They were heightened on Friday morning as rival Vestas 11th Hour Racing remained in stealth mode into the afternoon and Witt and his crew – as well as those following live on the Volvo Ocean Race online tracker - had no idea exactly how far (or close) the chasing yachts were behind.

There was also drama last week when crewman Alex Gough went overboard after falling from an outrigger and he was recovered in an incredibly fast seven minutes.

The picture, for fans on the ground in Hong Kong, was as foggy as the weather that was waiting to greet the fleet, with China’s Dongfeng also looking to lay down a challenge in the run home.

But when the fleet hit the 200 nautical miles mark out from the finish – the point where stealth mode is no longer allowed – the online tracker revealed the Charlie Enright-skippered Vestas 11th Hour Racing was 52 nautical miles behind Witt and crew, and the Charles Caudrelier-skippered Dongfeng was 74 nautical miles behind.

From there it was a matter of keeping Scallywag on the course they had set – for home.

Credit must also go to navigator Libby Greenhalgh, who joined the crew in Melbourne and played a part in making some of the crucial decisions that helped Scallywag to victory.

The masterstrokes for Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag had come with a sharp southwesterly gybe between the islands of Fuga and Dalupiri, north of the Philippines, and before that through the doldrums area of light winds on the approach to the Philippines, when the Hong Kong yacht seemed to find winds no other yacht could muster by cutting the corner.

From there on in, history beckoned – and Witt and his crew were given a triumphant welcome as they sailed into home waters.