Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

‘The team is in good hands under Witty’: boss reveals his relief after Scallywag prevails following dramatic race

Lee Seng Huang expresses his gratitude that his crew returned safely following gruelling fourth leg into Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 10:50am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 10:51pm

Tycoon Lee Seng Huang has praised his skipper David Witt and his triumphant band of “Scallywags” for facing down a series of huge challenges during the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Race – and still managing to be the first crew into Hong Kong.

The man they call “The Boss” on Thursday revealed his constant worry as Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag lurched from one crisis to another in the Southern Ocean.

“I was shocked when I was informed of the man overboard incident, but to recover a crew member in seven minutes shows the team is in good hands under Witty,” said Lee, referring to the dramatic rescue of Alex Gough.

“Perhaps people don’t realise this is one of the world’s most difficult races, so there’s lots that concerns me.

“It was such a dramatic race, from avoiding a reef, coming last, to catching up then falling back again ... followed by a man overboard, and a final nail-biting chase to the finish.”

Lee, the executive chairman of financial services giant Sun Hung Kai & Co, has a clear mandate.

“My instruction to the team and our ethos has always been safety first. While we give the impression we are Scallywags, nothing is more important than safety.

“The Southern Oceans were very rough and I was pleased Witty took the boat further north after one of our crew members, Antonio Fontes, broke his arm.”

Scallywag sailed into Hong Kong ahead of the seven-strong fleet for a fairy-tale win in leg four of the world’s toughest sailing race early last Saturday morning, having been 90 nautical miles behind at one stage after leaving Melbourne.

But their joy was tempered soon after docking when rival Vesta 11th Hour Racing was involved in a collision with a fishing boat just outside Hong Kong waters resulting in the death of a fisherman.

“The Vestas accident was very upsetting,” Lee said.

And he warned of more drama to come as the teams prepare for leg five, a return down under but this time to Auckland in New Zealand.

“There’s more than one Southern Ocean leg after Auckland to think about,” he said.

For Lee, anxiety has been paired with frustration, particularly in parts of the race when Scallywag was at the back of the pack.

“Our performance in the previous legs was also very frustrating and I could see the potential of the team which did not convert to our moment.

“We were being told we couldn’t do it [win the leg into Hong Kong] as we had less preparation and experience compared to the other teams.

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“But we did it and to do it in Hong Kong made it the most special considering it is the first time the stopover is hosted here. What makes it feel especially good is being the underdog.

“I think millions of people will know of Scallywag and the boat is from Hong Kong and that a Hong Kong boat can compete with the best of the world in one of the most difficult sailing races in the world.”

Despite the achievements, Lee realises the race is a constant learning exercise.

“I think we underestimated the size and difficulty of the race. Witty and I are both learning how tough this race is.

“Every boat is identical, so it really is down to the team’s performance and ability to get along. And some good luck of course.”

Apart from being a win for Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, and all of Hong Kong, Lee perceives this as a win for sailing in the region.

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“I think the win really vindicated the effort and energy Witty, the team and I have put in over the last two years to start the Scallywag programme and make it world class.

“It has raised the awareness of the sport in the region and that was the objective of the campaign. We still have a long way to go, but it clearly shows that we are heading in the right direction.”

Lee’s advice to anyone who wishes to tackle the oceans in the Volvo Ocean Race is straightforward.

“Get started, give it a go. Life is short. There is the sheer test of human strength and character ... the camaraderie and the beauty and the ferocity of our oceans all come together to make this race so special.”