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Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18

‘I chose a really bad time to go out on the outrigger’: Alex Gough in awe of Scallywags after being thrown overboard in Volvo Ocean Race

The 24-year-old Australian admits he was at fault after being launched into the ocean during the Melbourne to Hong Kong leg

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 3:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 9:45pm

It wasn’t panic that overwhelmed Alex Gough when he was thrown off Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag during the fourth leg of the Volvo Ocean Racebut watching his crewmates instantly reacting to “his stupidity”.

“It was a pretty surreal feeling,” says Gough. “Not a lot of panic, as such, just me thinking ‘Oh f***.’ Luckily it was during the day and everybody was aware of where everybody was on the boat. And I did yell as I was falling off.”

The 24-year-old Australian knows things could have been so much worse. The conditions were relatively calm on January 14, as the fleet made its way from the Philippines to Hong Kong, and the incident happened in broad daylight.

Still, Gough makes no excuses as he recounts the moment Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag surged and he was thrown off its outrigger and into the sea. He wasn’t wearing a harness or a life jacket and said he “was pretty stupid”.

“Basically I chose a really bad time to go out on the outrigger,” says Gough, who was helping change sails at the time. “I would do that move in a leg hundreds of times and it was just a bad time to do it.

“Normally, if it was rough, we’d slow the boat down for sail changes and if I’m going to go out on the end of the outrigger, I’d tell Witty [skipper David Witt], or whoever is driving and they’ll slow right down. But they weren’t quite the conditions for that and I just got a bit caught out, basically.”

By its very nature, the Volvo Ocean Race – all nine months and 38,739 nautical miles of it – attracts the best sailors the world knows – because they have to face the most testing of conditions, and they can be relied upon to face them with a minimum of fuss. The reaction on Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag was a case in point.

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“It was interesting for me because they turned around really quickly so there wasn’t a lot of time for doubt,” Gough said. “They weren’t very far away so there was never a thought that they wouldn’t come back and find me. Pretty much as soon as I popped my head up they were turning and I could see all that from the water.

“It was not a state of massive panic. I was thinking about what they would be doing to get the boat back, going through the processes and I was watching that happen so there wasn’t a lot of panic.”

The reaction of Witt – known as a man who wears his heart on his sleeve – was captured on video, and has been toned down – slightly – by Gough.

“He said ‘don’t ever do that again’. And maybe a few more words but it was a fatherly chat,” said Gough.

Eyebrows were raised after it became clear Gough wasn’t wearing a life jacket.

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“The simple answer is you don’t wear a life jacket 24-7 when for us at 17 knots it’s not windy. It sounds silly to say it like that, but it isn’t because we’ve done so many miles.

“But, yeah, there are lessons to be learned and the guys did a great job getting me back. There was no mucking around, and they were awesome,” Gough said.

“When it comes to stuff like that Witty is just very good at leading, when things get serious, and a lot of people don’t see that side of Witty, but the crew knows that and it’s pretty comforting.”

The Brisbane-raised Gough has been sailing most of his life and was hired by Witt as sail trimmer/driver after their paths crossed racing around the region and in Hong Kong, where the young Australian had previously spent time working on local yacht Black Baza.

“I think he could see there was a bit of sparkle in my eyes for sailing,” says Gough. “Basically the team entered to do the race and I sent them an email. That was it. I said I am the right age and I’m more than willing if you give me a shot.

“The challenge for me is the lack of experience. You can have done a lot of offshore sailing but this style of racing is totally different. It’s a whole other level of intensity.

“The elements too, they can get pretty severe. At first you’re thinking ‘This goes on for how long?’ But it soon becomes regular living.”

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Gough was greeted on dock by his father and his girlfriend as Scallywag arrived in the early hours of last Saturday morning and he said to win the fourth leg, representing Hong Kong, was like a “dream” for all involved.

Now the focus has shifted to the rest of the journey, and the challenge of reeling in leaders Mapfre from their fourth position.

“There’s maybe going to be some higher expectations now but that’s fine,” he said.

“It’s a marathon and anything can happen. Take every day as it comes, try to stay emotionally detached, relax, and get on with the job.”